Tokyo Time: Shrine for the War Dead and A Lot of Wandering Around

The main entrance towards the Yasukuni Shrine.

The main entrance towards the Yasukuni Shrine.

Monday (August 24th) rolled around and I dragged myself out of bed to check out more of Tokyo’s famous sights.  I’d initially intended to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum, but turns out there’s this whole process for getting your ticket that I had not anticipated (i.e., it must be done in advance from designated ticket buying places in Certain Convenience stores that are, inconveniently, not located on Iki).  Studio Ghibli is the animation studio that’s produced several titans of the anime film industry, notably Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle.

So since that was knocked off my things to do list (sad face!) I went straight to the Yasukuni Shrine.

For those uninitiated in modern Japanese history and politics, the Yasukuni Shrine is the main shinto shrine for those who’ve died protecting Japan.  It was originally built in 1869 during the Meiji Era, and was renamed Yasukuni (Peaceful Country) Shrine in 1879.  At the time, since this was the strongest era of Emperor worship/Shinto-ism since the Tokugawa Shogunate began, it was controlled and run by the State.  However, after the American occupation and the implementation of the new Japanese Constitution, an official law separating church and state placed the Yasukuni shrine into private hands.

This privatization is blurred, however, by the special relationship between the imperial family and the shrine.  Inside the attached Yushukan, what I would call a military museum, there’s actually an entire room devoted to the historical relationship between the imperial family, especially the Emperor, and the shrine.

The problem with such a blurring of lines is that, in case you didn’t know, the Shrine is incredibly infamous abroad.  It reached the pinnacle of notoriety when celebrated Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi headed the state.  See, in addition to the “regular” war dead enshrined there, the men who were convicted during the Tokyo Tribunal post World War II as well as many other soldiers who were probably guilty of war crimes (especially against China and Korea) are also “deified.”

Did you know?

In Japan, due to their historical ties to China, the concept of ancestral worship is very strong.  As such, after a family member dies, they are usually enshrined inside the family home and “worshiped” (I put this in quotes because it’s very superficial to most Japanese nowadays) on particular holidays during the year, both to show their respect and to hope that the spirits–kami, also the Japanese word for gods–will bless the family in the future.

To the Chinese (overall, a much more nationalistic country than Japan, I’d say) with crisp, maybe slightly distorted, memories of the Nanking Massacre, scientific experiments on Chinese civilians, and really, just bitterness overall, well, such respect and “deification” by head government officials is pretty galling.  The Koreans have similar reasons for their (I think justifiable) anger, especially the Japanese forced enslavement of comfort women for their troops during the war.

In any case, being a rabid student of China and Japan, I decided it would be an interesting place to visit, and I did my best to be respectful despite a great deal of disagreement with the way, uh, certain things were presented.

It is one of the prettier shrines I’ve been to, actually.

A statue of Omura Masujiro, the father of the modern Japanese Army.  He was pivotal in getting the Emperor to end the class-based society of the Tokugawa Era (with samurai at the top).

A statue of Omura Masujiro, the father of the modern Japanese Army. He was pivotal in getting the Emperor to end the class-based society of the Tokugawa Era (with samurai at the top).

The actual shrine building.  Funny story: while I snapped pictures, I got FIVE new mosquito bites.  I guess Japanese mosquitoes really like my delicious American blood.

The actual shrine building. Funny story: while I snapped pictures, I got FIVE new mosquito bites. I guess Japanese mosquitoes really like my delicious American blood.

Some cranes for peace on the shrine grounds.

Some cranes for peace on the shrine grounds.

The shrine wasn’t as bad as everything I’d expected from all the hype it gets in the foreign media.

That is, until I went to the Yushukan.

Because the Yasukuni Shrine is controlled by private interests (read: extremely nationalistic private interests), the Yushu museum is nearly as bad as the Beijing Military Museum when it comes to skewing history to put one’s country in an acceptable light.  In other words, it’s not really what it says, more like what it leaves out.  For example, the two Korean wars and the attacks Japan launched within China during World War II are referred to as “incidents” rather than wars.  They also, at least in the English parts, make no mention of the Japanese role in inciting said incidents.  And, of course, the Nanking Massacre is barely a footnote:

Aside from the fact that most estimates put the dead somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000; the idea that they only hurt "soldiers in civilians clothing" is laughable considering all the photographic evidence of, yanno, women, children, and *babies* massacred.

Aside from the fact that most estimates put the dead somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000; the idea that they only hurt "soldiers in civilians clothing" is laughable considering all the photographic evidence of, yanno, women, children, and *babies* massacred.

Of course, it’s not as if any country has an unblemished history of stellar treatment to its enemies during wartime (Abu Ghraib? My Lai?  and then there’s the clemency we offered both Japanese and Nazi troops during WWII in return for the scientific studies they performed on innocent civilians).  At the same time, the completely innocent tone this museum takes, especially when it has such a close relationship with the imperial family and many government officials well, I can understand why Chinese and Koreans would be pretty damn pissed off.

But their collection of artefacts was pretty cool.

They also had kamikaze planes, but there were very obvious "NO PICTURE" signs and too many people walking about for me to do it more sneakily.

They also had kamikaze planes, but there were very obvious "NO PICTURE" signs and too many people walking about for me to do it more sneakily.

What I find most interesting about this entire experience is the response I get from Japanese people when I say I went to Yasukuni Shrine.  I can only assume it’s because they think I went to pray for the war dead (…no).  But my supervisor here on Iki, when I told her I went, responded with a vehement “I hate that place!”  Proof that, although people may be concerned about Japan remilitarizing as China grows in power, there’s still a very strong and vocal majority who are not about to let that happen.

Aaaaanyway.

The Yasukuni Shrine is very close to many of Tokyo’s other sights, so after escaping more mosquito bite attacks, I walked through a park, past the Budokan (the main martial arts gymnasium in Japan) and discovered a science museum.  Remembering how much fun I had way back when in San Francisco’s science museum, I decided to give it a go.  Well, that and I’d purchased something at a previous museum that gave me a free pass, so I wasn’t losing much except time.

It was a little disappointing, I’ll admit.  But that was only because my reading of Japanese is not nearly as good as my speaking.  That and there were insanely energetic kids screaming everywhere.

Still, some of it was pretty cool.

Explanation of how hybrid cars work.

Explanation of how hybrid cars work.

Hahahaha, methane...

Hahahaha, methane...

Some prototypes of what robots may look like in the future, if they don't look like the creepily realistic human beings being created now.

Some prototypes of what robots may look like in the future, if they don't look like the creepily realistic human beings being created now.

After the science museum, I finished my jaunt through the park (sorry, don’t remember it’s name) and stumbled upon the National Museum of Modern Art by accident.  I was really excited, because it happened to be on the list, and so went inside.  The featured exhibition was on Paul Gauguin, which, though a bit short, was very well done.  I particularly liked his prints, even more so than his most famous painting, although that was also breathtaking.

Following the NMMA, I discovered I was quite close to the imperial palace and grounds, so I decided to go wander through there rather than find a place to eat dinner, as I wasn’t that hungry yet (it was, by this time, nearing 5pm.  I hadn’t eaten lunch.  So the fact that I wasn’t hungry was a bit odd but, whatever).

For anyone who wants to visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, only certain parts are open for visitors year round, and only till 5pm (haha).  The whole thing can only be accessed twice a year, once on the Emperor’s Birthday, and once for New Years.  And I don’t think you’ll see much of the palace, then, as the areas swamped with Japanese folks.

In any case, it may be the only place in Japan with very nice grass.  Not that you can sleep or walk on it.  That would make too much sense.

But I saw some very picturesque views as the sun hurried through its descent in the sky and felt very peaceful overall.

I think this may be the side you can access year round.

I think this may be the side you can access year round.

OMG GRASS!  No freaking way!

OMG GRASS! No freaking way!

This is actually my favorite picture of the day.  Apparently the bridge is pretty famous.

This is actually my favorite picture of the day. Apparently the bridge is pretty famous.

No, I’m not done yet.

From there I somehow made it to the National Diet Building, which was not only closed but also under construction.  I find it entertaining that I’ve visited the central government buildings in both Japan and China but, despite my excessive patriotism and love for the US Constitution, I’ve never been to DC.

Someday.  If Georgetown, Columbia, or the Foreign Service are actually in my future.

It has pretty interesting architecture.

It has pretty interesting architecture.

FINALLY, I found a train station and went back to Shibuya to take more pictures and just walk a bit more before I became too exhausted.  My back was already aching from my camera at this point.  It’s amazing how heavy four pounds can become after nine hours of it hanging around your neck.

I also found a Burger King in Shibuya, which was wonderful.  Despite eating at Starbucks (I can’t help myself), I ate a Junior Whopper.  It was delicious.

A more aerial view of the Shibuya crossing than what I took the night before.  It's pretty intense.  Taken from the Starbucks before a haggard worker told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures.

A more aerial view of the Shibuya crossing than what I took the night before. It's pretty intense. Taken from the Starbucks before a haggard worker told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures.

Shibuya is well known for its eclectic fashion as well as shops.  Always be prepared, right?  :)

Shibuya is well known for its eclectic fashion as well as shops. Always be prepared, right? 🙂

I’ll leave you with that.

Only one more post, probably, as I didn’t do too much on the Tuesday and Wednesday before leaving.  I think I did two days worth of sightseeing that Monday as it was.

Flamenco tonight!  Except I’m exhausted.  Ugh.  And I still need to edit the second half of a book for my critique partner.  It’s okay.  I’ll do half of it today, half of it tomorrow.  No problem.  Hopefully the critique will still be good.  Eep!

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