"The Yasukuni Issue"
The process of the State Shinto and its contribution to the Yasukuni Shrine
December 5, 2001
As the August 15th anniversary of the end of the World War II gets close annually, a big debate arises: should the Japanese prime minister officially visit the Yasukuni Shrine? The Yasukuni Shrine was established in 1869 where 2,453,199 war-dead were enshrined. Those who support the official recognition of the Yasukuni believe that Shinto shrines were mere ceremonial stages for the celebration of folk �customs� in accordance with the fundamentals of kokutai thought�everyone who died for the Emperor was a part of the self-defense force who protected the nation. On the other hand, the press in the Japanese former colonies protests that a Japanese prime minister�s official visit to the Yasukuni shrine shows �gross insensitivity towards Asian nations for whose people the Yasukuni Shrine represents a symbol of Japanese militarism and aggression, existing only to glorify the war.� Their arguments focus on the overseas expansion of the State Shinto and the militaristic significance of the Yasukuni Shrine. Others who oppose the prime minister�s official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine argue that the official recognition of the Yasukuni shrine is the revival of the State Shinto: �the allegedly nonreligious state cult from Meiji period up to the end of the war.� As the criticisms point out, Japanese representative�s official visit to Yasukuni is problematic issue. Thus, the Japanese prime minister should not visit on the Yasukuni Shrine officially on August 15th because: 1) the military perspective of the Yasukuni Shrine 2) the government support of the Yasukuni shrine applies to the inseparable connection between Shintoism and political administration which created the State Shinto 3) the official recognition of the Yasukuni means that the government supports the institution which promoted Japanese aggression in Asia.
First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between the State Shinto and the Shintoism in order to identify the problem of the official recognition of the Yasukuni shrine. Shinto religion grew out of the earliest Japanese traditions and gradually took the shape as an organized religion under the influence of Buddhism and Chinese culture. The most important concept of the Shintoism is �purification,� emphasizing humble respect for the kami and voluntary participation in shrine ceremonies. For approximately one thousand years Japanese people regulated their lives by the rituals of Shinto which centered around the lunar calendar. State Shinto, on the other hand is a non-religion of Japanese nationalism existing between the Japanese state and the Shinto. The Meiji government created the State Shinto to set a truly national symbol to help strengthen the concept of the new nation-state and developed a national patriotism.
The Meiji government�s strong emphasis on Shinto religion resulted in a separation of the State Shinto and the Sect Shinto. Ichiro Hori and Yoshio Toda identify the difference between the two religions: �Sect Shinto consisted of a number of folk religion which were generally Shinto in nature. The other, State Shinto, was nothing more than an ethical cult based on ancestor worship.� When Meiji was in the process of making a new constitution, the regime�s religious policy in making Shinto the national religion was attacked by other religious leaders as well as by secular intellectuals who felt the necessity for freedom in religious beliefs. There was also a pressure from western countries to include the freedom of religion in the constitution. The Meiji Constitution eventually included the freedom of religion in article 28 although the government wanted to enforce the Shinto religion to its people. Since the Constitution included religious freedom, the Meiji government promoted Shinto religion by substituting Shinto as non-religious group, Shinto State.
The separation between the Sect Shinto and the State Shinto created a controversy after the State Shinto was abolished. The problem is how shrines which were built under the State Shinto should be defined: as a religion institution because it is the Shinto institution, or as a national monument since State Shinto is not considered a religion anymore. The origin of the problem reaches back to the Meiji era: on the national level, the institutional life of Shinto was controlled by the government, and people were obligated to visit shrines. On the local level, however, the Shintoism maintained its contact with the people and preserved its religious heritage of the local festival and annual celebration. This dual aspect of shrine resulted in the controversy over a significance of the Yasukuni Shrine because it holds both the Shinto perspective and the State Shinto perspective. For example, Originally founded in Kyoto under the name of Shokonsha, or shrine for calling the spirit of the dead, the shrine was transferred to Tokyo and its name changed to the Yasukuni shrine in June 1869. Klaus Antoni argues that Shokonsha had the perspective of the folk Shinto which enshrined wondering spirits who died from �unnatural death� such as war dead. Thus, the Yasukuni shrine where war-dead was enshrined is �quite conceivable that people who held such a view toward the wandering soul would feel especially sensitive about fallen soldiers, the largest group of young and mostly unmarried dead, many of whom died far from home.�On the other hand, the Yasukuni Shrine is one of a representative of the Shinto State. The dual perspective of the Yasukuni shrine aroused a controversy over the significance of the Yasukuni shrine: Is it a monument or a shrine?
Although the significance of the Yasukuni shrine is questioned, the �official recognition� of the Yasukuni shrine is a problematic issue because of its militaristic significant. The spirit of all those who had died in the fighting leading up to the Meiji Restoration, formally established in 1868, were transferred to Yasukuni. The Yasukuni shrine gained more military significance when it was renamed and granted the rank of special imperial shrine in 1891. General shrines were under the jurisdiction of Home Affairs, but the Yasukuni Shrine alone became a special shrine under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Army and Navy. As scholar Hardacre argues, even in terms of its organization, the Yasukuni Shrine was a religious institution of the army and the emperor appointed navy and generals or admirals on active duty as organizers of special festivals. This is the militaristic face of the Yasukuni Shrine. It created the militaristic image of the shrine, which those who oppose the official visit of the Yasukuni shrine focus in their argument.
The practice of the Yasukuni Shrine was cleverly linked to militarism and worship of the shrine as kami and were awarded the honor of receiving empire, himself a kami in human form. They became a spirit of protecting the nation and received eternal and �warm consolation.� This concept of the Yasukuni Shrine�s practice leads to an arguments such as �what did the government think the phrase �glorious war dead� means to those who were colonized?� 2,453,199 people were enshrined as kami including war criminals such as Hideki Tojo, who was both a military general as well as a prime minister during the World War II. He was condemned as a class A war criminal in the International War Trial after the war. Former Japanese colonies argue, �How could the government lend its support to a shrine that had apotheosized class A war criminals?� This really makes sense by reviewing the militaristic history of the Yasukuni shrine.
The official recognition of the Yasukuni is a problematic issue because the government support of the Yasukuni shrines is parallel to the Meiji government�s powerful support of Shintoism which created the Shinto State. The State Shinto was created when the Meiji emperor announced the Restoration Rescript and the Five Imperial Charter Oaths in 1868. The two announcements were the first official indication to the public of the stress to be placed on Shinto in the new government. In the Rescript, which was announced on April 5 1868, the Meiji emperor stated that the Restoration of Imperial meant a return to the �Imperial Rule of Jimmu Tenno.� It meant that the Meiji government would be based upon the government used at the time of Jimmu Tenno or Jimmu emperor. This proclamation has the significance of the Shintoism because 1) identity of Jimmu Tenno is closely connected to the Shinto mythology in Kojiki and Nihonnshoki 2) the government which Jimmu established applied to the establishment of the Shinto Shrine.
The connection between Shinto mythology and Jimmu Tenno comes from the legend in Kojiki. According to Kojiki, Jimmu was the direct descendent of the sun Goddess, Amaterasu, through her grandson, Ningi-no-mikoto. Amaterasu sent Ningi to rule the earth and it was Ningi�s great grandson who became the first emperor, Jimmu. What Kojiki intends to explain is since in the Shinto belief kami are responsible for creating the world, that Jimmu Tenno, descendant of the kami, has the same responsibility as kami: That�s Jimmu�s responsible in founding the Japanese nation. The Meiji emperor declared that he would take the role of Jimmu in the �Imperial Charter Oath of Five Articles� by declaring:
In order to perform the greatest reformation in our history, I will lead the nation in giving an oath to the Kami of Heaven and Earth and will establish the national policy to pave the way for our nation�s security.
The Meiji emperor expressed his desire to continue the imperial tradition. The return of the �Imperial Rule of Jimmu Tenno� led the government to establishment the Shinto State. According to the Nihonnshoki, the Jimmu emperor established his capital at Yamato where he deposited the Three Sacred Treasures, the mirror, the sword, and the Jewels, which had been given by Ameterasu to Ninngi no Mikoto. In Yamato, he claimed, �we shall respond to the goodness of the Heavenly Power in granting us the Kingdom, and we shall foster righteousness and extend the line of the Imperial descendants�. His claim expresses his obligation to respond to the goodness of the Heavenly place, where he dropped the Three Sacred Treasures. Therefore, it was necessary for the Meiji government to establish the Department of Shinto to increase shrines where people could �respond to the goodness of the place�. In addition, the emperor insisted people obligate themselves to expanding the Imperial line also reflected the Charter Oath, �Ye subject shall bear this in mind and shall fully cooperated to fulfill this will. By using the Imperial Rescript and the charter oath the Meiji government did not only stress the Shintoism as a national religion, but the central principle of the national life.
To promote the State Shinto, the government announced The Imperial Rescript on Education. A scholar Earhart Byron defines the Imperial Rescript on Education as : �the source of education [which teaches] that Japan is a sacred empire handed by the imperial line and to which all are loyal and obedient.� The Rescript emphasized Imperial line as �the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire�, �and the source of Our education� As a result, textbooks changed to genealogical tables tracing the origin of the imperial house all the way back to Izanagi and Izanami. In addition, Jinja sannpai or shrine visits became regular school sponsored events and most schools maintained a kamidana, or god shelf, and enshrined the imperial photo, various kami and sometimes a talisman from Ise Shrine. In addition to the Imperial Rescript on education, in 1906 full-scale merger plans for nationwide shrines were launched under the direction of Hara Takashi, the Minister for home affairs. Beginning in 1910, a program for the training of Shinto priests was underwritten by the state to efficiently promote the idea of State Shinto. At Kokugakuin University and Kogakkan University, the priests were trained to teach in the public school. By using the education based on the Imperial line, the government created great Japanese nationalism.
The process of the State Shinto illustrates how dangerous it is when the religion falls under the government. The Meiji government support of the Shintoism was the first step to the destruction of its religious significance, resulting in the creation of the State Shinto. The inseparable connection between the Shintoism and political administration is the problem. The official recognition of the Yasukuni shrine means the government support of the religion institution. Thus, why the recognition of the Yasukuni shrine sometimes refers as the revival of the State Shinto.� That is why the official recognition of the Yasukuni shrine is problematic.
The overseas expansion of the State Shinto makes the official recognition problematic, because it is one of the main arguments of former Japanese colonies to protest the official recognition of the Yasukuni Shrine. The �East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere� (toakyoueikenn) was the fundamental idea which was used by the Japanese Government to justify the military aggression in Asia. Toakyoueiken was a slogan during the World War II which drives from the idea because Asia is threatened from Western imperialism, Asia needs to become one nation to fight against the West. Since Japanese saw herself a superior to other Asian countries, Japan should be responsible in unifying Asia. This extremely problematic was derived from a �hardening or universalization of earlier policy� of the Shinto State which was represented in this period.
The fundamental idea of the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere reaches back to the idea in the book, Kokugaku (national studies) written by Motoori Norinaga during the Edo period. Norinaga. By devoting many years to the philosophical and theoretical interpretation of the Kojiki, he held the idea that � the Japanese and their Shinto when purged of all foreign accretions and influence, represented the pure and therefore the best, inheritance of humanity from the divine age.� In the chapter of �The True Tradition of the Sun God�, Motoori presents the Japanese superiorities over other nations. Motoori believed that the Japan was superior to other nations because 1) Japan is blessed because the Jimmu is the descendant of the emperor Jimmu, therefore, she favors Japan. He writes: The sun Goddess is a universal deity as well as a national one, but she has shown special favor to the Japanese and guides them to a special destiny. 2) Japan is the only country which transmitted the Original Right way correctly. The �original Right Way� refers the imperial load which was written in Kojiki. Motoori argues: �but the ways of foreign countries are no more the original Right Way because original truth has been corrupted with passage of the time, they can sacredly linked to the original Right way.� 3) Japan is based on the Original Way while other nation is based on human created theory. By arguing that foreign countries which follow the principle a human creation of heaven and earth such as in the Book of Change does not hold the true principle, he believes that these countries are inferior to Japan because Japan follows the facts: the world is created by Izanagi and Izanami.
Motoori�s sense of Japanese superiority gave a great influence on Japanese history. First, his idea adapted by the loyalties, Satsuma and Choshu clans who defeated the Edo Shogunate. They created the slogan Sonno joi by using Motoori�s idea, because Japan was under threat of Western imperialism. About the time when Chinese feudal Qing dynasty, was forced to sign for the Nanjing Treaty with Great Britain, the U.S. forced Japan to sign the �unequal treaty.� The U.S. Counsel man Townsend Harris came to Japan, he created the U-Japan Treaty on Amity and Commerce in July 1858. Japan was also forced to agree with a similar unequal treaty with Great Britain, France and the Netherlands. Japanese loyalist realized that the Tokugawa�s feudalism would not work under the pressure of Western power, and the only way to protect the power was to be modernized. The underlying principal of unity was to be an appeal to the past, to the indigenous religion of �Japan� by using Motoori�s idea. The loyalist such as Sakamoto Ryoma and Saigo Takamori who created the slogan sonno joi by using the Motoori�s idea, played an important role in establishing the new government. That is why the Meiji emperor established the new government by announcing, �return to the Imperial Rule of Jimmu��Motoori�s idea greatly influenced the Japanese history.
In 1937 Motoori�s sense of Japanese superiority revived though Kokutaino honngi, (Cardinal Principle of the National Entity of Japan) which was intended to gain the support for the military goal of a state that constituted a world power. Kokutaino honngi represents the Japanese superiority by arguing �western thought is contrary to Japanese culture because it does not realize the unique heritage of Japan, and it encourages an individualism that destroys the Japanese social ethics. Thus, the rejection of the Western thoughts and recovery of the ancient heritage was necessary for the problem of Japanese society which was full of �foreign ideologies,� �individualistic ideologies,� and �Occidental ideologies.� This idea is clearly the revival of the Motoori�s idea of Japanese superiority and the necessity to return to the imperial load. However, Kokutaino honngi does not only emphasized the Japanese superiority, but it also emphasized the obligation to the emperor:
Offering our lives for the sake of the Empire does not mean so-called self�scarifies, but the casting aside of our little selves to live under his august grace and the enhancing of the genuine life of the people of a state.
This sentence means that giving his life for the nation is the obligation to show the loyalty to the emperor. Due to this notion of the loyalty, the Yasukuni shrine, where the spirit of all soldiers killed in the war is enshrined, became a source of deep pride for soldiers and their families. Even after the State Shinto was abolished, the prides kept remaining in the Yasukuni shrine because the notion of loyalty to a self-defense force did not disappear. As result, in 1956 Bereaved Society of Japan called for the government officials� and the emperor�s attendance to the festivals in the Yasukuni Shrine to honor the �sell-defense.� Kokutano honngi did not justify the war, but it also made it hard for Japanese people to realize the �Japanese responsibility for the war: The World War II started because of the Japanese aggression in Asia. Japan was assailant, therefore, the word �defense� does not apply for the all Japanese people. The Japanese military action cannot be justified or glorified. The notion of the Kokutaino honngi which was created from the State Shinto still exists even after the State Shinto was abolished.
Another justification of the war was derived from the State Shinto: �eight corners of the world under one roof� or hakko (entire world) ichiu (under one roof). Shigeyoshi Murakami argues, �the nation of the eight corners of the world under one roof was actively propagated in order to justify the war of aggression.� The idea, hakko ichiu, reaches back to the Jimmu tennno. The conviction that emperor states in the line of direct descendent from Amaterasu is important element in Shinto because it linked with the idea of the entire country being like one family under one roof. When Jinmmu shows the spot in the land of Yamato for his capital, he issued an edict in which he said; �we hope to establish a capital from which to united the whole realm, placing everything one roof.� This clearly expressed �the ideal of bringing all the diverse tribes under the sway of the men of Yamato.� Hakko ichiu was the phrase which was used during nicchu-senssou to express this idea that would have been inconceivable to people living in the legendary period of Jimmu tennno. This notion, which was created by the Shinto mythology, indicated that the Japanese overseas expansion was justified because Japanese people were the descendant of the Jimmu emperor; therefore they had the mission of ruling the entire world as Jimmu the emperor did.
Shrines like the Yasukuni triggered a controversy after the defeat of Japan in the World War in 1945, the Allies abolished the State Shinto and the identified the Sect Shinto as the branch of the Shintoism. While Shintoism became one religion, the significance of the shrine still remains dual perspective: shrines for the Shinto practice, and shrines which were built to promote the State Shinto. This dual perspective of the shrine aroused a controversy: should the Yasukuni Shrine be identified as a national monument or a religious institution? Those who support the official recognition as a monument, especially people in the Bereaved Society of Japan, believe that Shinto shrines were mere ceremonial stages for the celebration of folk �customs� in accordance with the fundamentals of kokutai thought�everyone who died for the Emperor were a self-defense force who protected the nation, therefore they should be honor. They insist that the prime minister, and the emperor should visit the Yasukuni shrine. Their arguments contend that since the Yasukuni shrine was established under the State Shinto which was identified as non-religion, the Yasukuni shrine should identified as a national monument instead of a religious institution. The problem is, however, that the Yasukuni remains Shinto significance such as its possession of mirrors and swords, the use of the Shinto priests and rituals. All of them should be removed in order to make the Yasukuni shrine a non-religious institute. This is the fundamental challenge of Shintoism to deal with the shrines which were established under the State Shinto.
Although the significance of the Yasukuni Shrine is questioned, the official recognition of the Yasukuni is problematic: if Yasukuni was considered to be a religious institution, the official recognition would violate the Article 19 and 20 of the Japanese constitution. If the Yasukuni shrine was considered as a national monument, the official recognition of the Yasukuni would mean the government support of the institution which promoted Japanese aggression in Asia. Either way, the Yasukuni shrine is a problematic issue. However, since 1985, Japanese prime ministers officially visited the Yasukuni Shrine on the August 15th or around that day arguing that the Yasukuni Shrine is not a religious institution. When prime minister Nakasone visited the shrine at the first time, Asian countries strongly protested his action by arguing, �how could Japanese government ally itself with a religion institution that so blatantly glorified war and eulogized Japanese aggression in Asia?� However, the Nakasone government had no answer to there criticism. The State Shinto�s idea, �Glorify the Self-defense force� which was derived Kokutaino honngii, still remains in the Yasukuni Shrine, which makes Japanese people ignore their responsibility for what Japanese people did in Asia during the World War. World War II started because of the Japanese aggression in Asia. Japan was the assailant, therefore, the word �defense� does not apply for Japanese people. The Japanese military action cannot be justified or glorified. The government representatives� official visits to the Yasukuni will not continue if they realize it.
In conclusion, the State Shinto was created by the Meiji government�s support of the Shintoism to unify the nation. The State Shinto did not only create Japanese ultranationalism, but it also created the justification for the Japanese aggression in Asia. The Yasukuni shrine represents the challenge of the Shintoism: how to identify the Yasukuni shrine. This challenge is a result of the separation between the State Shinto and the Sect Shinto which took place in the Meiji period. Although a significance of the Yasukuni Shrine is still a question, the recognition of the Yasukuni shrine is problematic because of its militaristic perspective, connection between Shintoism and political administration which created the State Shinto, and the official recognition of the Yasukuni means that the government supports the institution which promoted Japanese aggression in Asia. Until the Japanese representatives acknowledge these facts, they should not officially visit the Yasukuni shrine.
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