The Most Controversial Shrine in Japan: Yasukuni Shrine

With all the good things that the world admire about Japan, there is one critical thing that will never be erased on everyone’s mind- their involvement on World War II.

For someone who came from the Philippines, the Japanese invasion during World War II does not only occupy a few hours lecture on our History class but it is something that is tangible. Though many of us are not yet born during those days, but the account of our grandparents, teachers, community elders are enough for us to understand the suffering and brutality that they have experienced. It created a group of individuals, specifically women (“comfort women”) whom up to these days are still seeking justice for an unforgivable crime of abuse.

How the Japanese perceived their action during those dark moments is one thing that triggers my curiosity among others.  I am not sure how their history books are written or if they teach their kids at school about this and if they do, how do they tell them about something that is so hard to explain in a way that will make them understand the decision of their leaders- be part of the Axis.

My quest brings me to the most controversial shrine in Japan – Yasukuni Shrine.

Why is it controversial? Yasukuni is a shrine dedicated to house the actual souls of the dead. It is part of the Shinto belief that all the evil acts a person has committed is absorbed when enshrinement is done. Out of the 2.5 million people contained in the shrine’s Book of Souls, most of them are soldiers, with 1,000 of them convicted of war crimes and 14 of them are Class A war criminals including World War II Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo. Do they deserve enshrinement? You tell me.

Every 15th of August, the somewhat peaceful Yasukuni Shrine is filled with protesters and full-geared riot police. It is transformed into a battle ground of the right/left wing group and a place of dissent for Japanese like many others who have lost a loved one. Remember, this country has their shared of suffering as well- the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They don’t blame those who attacked them on those unfathomable days but they blamed those souls that the shrine has sheltered.

Setting all the controversy aside, the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine is an interesting place to visit. Aside from the main shrines and tea houses, there are plenty of things to see but most of them are related to the ideology of war- museum containing war airplanes, bazooka, tankers, statue of a Japanese soldier and animals who were perished in war service.

The location is nearby Tokyo University of Science. If you have spare time, you can pay a visit to the nearby Koishikawa Korakuen garden as well.

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