How Defense Minister Inada's Yasukuni undermined reconciliation By Mindy Kotler, APP Director
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of Pearl Harbor highlighted reconciliation and putting an end to Pacific War history. However, Abe’s Cabinet officials were of a different mind. While Abe was in the air returning from Pearl Harbor, his Reconstruction Minister and good friend, Masahiro Imamura, paid homage to the war deities at the Yasukuni Shrine.
Shortly after returning to Japan, Defense Minister Tomomi INADA, who had accompanied the Prime Minister to Pearl Harbor, also visited the Yasukuni Shrine. She is said to be Mr. Abe’s preferred successor. When she was the LDP’s policy chief, she initiated a reevaluation the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. She now administers this on-going investigation. Reportedly, she once said “Yasukuni is not a place to pledge not to repeat the horror of war again. It is a place to promise that 'we will follow in your footsteps if a contingency occurs in our homeland.'"
Yasukuni is not Arlington, nor is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific that Prime Minister Abe visited in Hawaii. Yasukuni visits have been used in recent decades by Japanese politicians to be naughty. It is a cost-free way to demonstrate independence from the US. The irony is that the visits so antagonize the Chinese that the US is compelled to reaffirm its defense of Japan soon after, drawing Japan closer to the US.
The Meiji Emperor created Yasukuni to militarize a religion (Shinto) in service of the state and to de-legitimatize his enemies (they cannot be enshrined there). It is not a cemetery and it represents only one religion. There are no bodies buried on the grounds. It is for the spirits of the military dead who died fighting for the Emperor who can be identified (the unidentified have their ashes at a non-religious site not far from Yasukuni) and who are not from the under-classes.
Those approved are apostatized--they become gods, one with the Emperor. There are many convicted and otherwise war criminals turned into gods at the Shrine. The Shrine is also only for the Imperial era, which ended August 15, 1945. No one after that date is enshrined. The park surrounding the Shrine has many small memorials to military units that served in the Pacific War, including the Kempeitai (SS-like military police).
The Ministers’ appearance at the Yasukuni Shrine does lessen the impact of PM Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor. It undermines through deed, his words at Hickam Field, barely 12 hours before. That PM Abe did not fire Inada—who visited Yasukuni as Defense Minister not in her personal capacity—suggests that he condoned her actions.
Abe’s tortured prose lingered on expressions of gratitude toward US treatment of defeated Japan. He interpreted reconciliation as American “tolerance” and posed Japan as being passive in its appreciation. It is as if a thesaurus was consulted for a politically acceptable word meaning compassion, mercy, and humanity.
Unsaid, and maybe unintended, was the contrast of American “tolerance” toward its conquered people to Japan’s own conduct of its war in China and the Pacific. Imperial Japan’s conquests were impressive military victories. They were, however, followed by unjustified and horrific violence against noncombatants, POWs, laborers, and the dead.
Condolences are what Mr. Abe gave to those military dead who died in combat at Pearl Harbor. He did not apologize or justify. The visit was framed as if he was going to Yasukuni to honor and pacify the spirits of warriors.
Standing tall at the water's edge does not turn Pearl Harbor into a symbol of reconciliation. It is not a tolerance for an enemies soldiers and sailors. Reconciliation is how today’s Japan answers to Imperial Japan’s wartime atrocities committed against the unarmed. It is no surprise that the trauma of these cruelties is intergenerational.
As Abe ended his remarks, he acknowledged this by promising to continue to make his “wish a reality.” It is something that still needs work. And something that is a responsibility of the Trump White House.
APP is a Washington research center studying the U.S. policy relationship with Northeast Asia. We provide factual context and informed insight on Asian science, finance, politics, security, history, and public policy.