The Yasukuni Shrine Dispute – Neglecting Japan’s domestic Politics and thinking about the War Histories

Closing in upon Japan’s commemoration of war’s end on August 15th, the question of whether the Japanese Prime Minister and other cabinet members would or should visit the Yasukuni Shrine again arises. Harsh criticism comes from China and South Korea. They started to criticize Japanese politicians for visiting Yasukuni in 1985, and the reason for it is because so called A-class war criminals of the Second World War  ̶  among them Hideki Tojo  ̶  are now enshrined there. However, both China and South Korea were seemingly not interested at all in the Yasukuni Shrine until that time although the enshrinement of the A-class war criminals was already reported by the Asahi News Paper in 1979. During this six-year period, three Japanese Prime Ministers made a total of 21 visits to Yasukuni.

The Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 to honor the people who dedicated their lives to the Japanese nation from 1853 until the Second World War.[1] Almost 2.5 million souls (including 21,000 Koreans and 28,000 Taiwanese) are currently enshrined. There is a small peripheral shrine named Tchinreisha next to the main shrine, which is dedicated to other people regardless of nationality  ̶  including enemies  ̶  who are not enshrined in the main shrine. The shrine merely holds the souls (not the mortal remains) of the people. The above-mentioned Japanese war criminals were not contained within the shrine precinct at the beginning.


The Tokyo Processes (known as International Military Tribunal for the Far East) categorized the accused into three classes of war crimes: A (against peace), B (conventional war crimes) and C (against humanity). 28 people were convicted of A-Class war crimes; seven were hanged on December 23rd 1948, the birthday of the Japanese Emperor Akihito. Interestingly, these 28 A-Class criminals had been denounced on April 29th 1946, which is the birthday of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. The seven executed Japanese were buried in Aichi Prefecture. In 1978, they together with 14 other A-Class war criminals were re-enshrined in Yasukuni where more than 4,000 B- and C-Class war criminals were already contained since 1959.

In April 1952, Japan regained sovereignty after the seven-year occupation by the Allied forces. A movement to pardon the war criminals convicted by the Tokyo Tribunal started soon after in Japan. The Japanese parliament (Diet) passed the pardon in 1953 and asked the Allied forces to abide by the Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty 1951. In 1956, the war criminals were pardoned.[2] Therefore, referring to the enshrinement of A-, B- and C-Class war criminals might no longer be necessary. The Japanese need to have their own trials to judge war criminals rather than merely basing judgements on the Tokyo Tribunal, at which Japan was forced off-stage.

Whoever is against visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, also ought to think about the justice of the Tokyo Processes as well as about the regional histories of those times, e.g., especially in China and Korea.

Whether the Tokyo Processes were legally acceptable and justified could be questioned. If one approves it, Japan could also accuse the USA of using atomic bombs against civilians and of bombing out Tokyo. This can be classified as C-Class war crimes according to the Alliance. Whatsoever, the Japanese media should have been accused of A-Class war crimes rather than the Japanese politicians and the military. At least, Hideki Tojo, an A-Class war criminal, was against the war and was sentenced to death. The media are still alive with impunity.

China and South Korea, which regularly criticize Japan for the Yasukuni visits, usually also condemn Japan for invading and colonizing their territories. As one takes a deeper look into the history of Asia, one must come to the conclusion that also the Chinese and Koreans might need to rethink and criticize their own political leaders, not only the Japanese. The Chinese communists and the Kuomintang of China (the Nationalist Party of China) were fighting against each other, and the communist party heftily benefitted from the war waged between the Kuomingtang and Japan. Moreover, the Korean peninsula was always vulnerable to foreign influence; therefore, the Koreans came under the tribunal system of China. However, when Russia tried to come down south and China lost its power, while Japan won the first Sino-Japanese War, the Koreans needed to survive among the competing forces and influences of Russia, China and Japan. Korea’s dynasty unfortunately had power struggles within the family for a long time, and Japan feared an expanding Russian power onto the Korean peninsula. In Japan, there were different opinions concerning Korea: either protectorate or annexation. Japan and Korea concluded the Japan-Korea Agreements, and Korea came under Japan’s power. There was also a pro-Japan group in Korea. At last, Japan annexed Korea.

Therefore, China and South Korea also need to reconsider their own politics and histories at that time instead of only criticizing Japan. Whether the Japanese politics at that time were correct or not, be also analyzed and considered from different points of view. Nevertheless, history should not be misused for power politics, and historical occurrences should not be criticized by applying today’s standards and rules.


Miyawaki, Junko (2010): Sekaishi no nakano Mansyu Teikoku to Nippon, WAC Bunko, Tokyo.

[1] Yasukuni Shrine, home page.

[2] The House of Representatives, Japan, Shitsumon Honbun Jyoho, Shitsumon dai 308 go.

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