Yasukuni at a glance
Yasukuni Jinja is a Shinto Shrine near Kitanomaru Park in central Tokyo. Built in 1869 in honor of those who lost their lives fighting to restore the emperor to power during the Meiji Restoration, the shrine has its roots in the Shinto revivalism that promoted the emperor as deity, with all Japanese subjects owing their lives to him. Yasukuni was expanded to include the nearly 2.5 million lives that were lost in Japan’s following wars.
After Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War at the the turn of the 19th century, the idea of sacrificing one’s life for the sake of the emperor and country was one of the foundations of Japan’s increasingly aggressive nationalism. When Japan enshrined General Tojo and other Class A war criminals along with the other war-dead at Yasukuni in 1978, there was a harsh backlash from China, Korea, and North Korea, who had suffered most at the hands of Japan’s imperialist agenda.
Not surprisingly, Yasukuni holds the title of Japan’s most controversial shrine. Tensions increase every year when Japanese cabinet ministers visit the shrine on August 15, the anniversary of the country’s defeat in World War II, despite the specific separation of State and religion required by Japan’s post-War constitution.
It should be noted that although the shrine holds the remains of Class A war criminals, there are 2.4 million others enshrined there as well. For many regular Japanese, Yasukuni is a only a place to remember family and friends who lost their lives in a very bloody war.