- Established: 1869
- Japanese: 靖国神社 (yasukuni jinja)
Contrary to conventional wisdom, which focuses upon Yasukuni as a shrine dedicated to Japanese war criminals of the World War II era who committed horrible inhuman atrocities, Yasukuni Shrine is actually dedicated to all Japanese who died in service of their country in modern wars. It was founded in 1869 to enshrine the souls of those who died in the Boshin War which immediately followed the Meiji Restoration. Japanese killed in the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and World War II are enshrined there as well, along with colonial subjects (Koreans and Taiwanese) who died in service of Japan, Japanese civilians killed in the war, etc.
Today, Yasukuni remains a center of ultranationalist/rightist political activism, and a major problem for Japan's foreign relations. Japanese officials frequently pay visits to the shrine - sometimes but not always explicitly describing these as personal visits, and not official visits - to pay their respects to those who died in the service of their country. A great many people, particularly in mainland East and Southeast Asia, take great offense at these visits, associating such visits with the worship of war criminals.
The shrine was originally known as Tokyo Shôkonsha, or Shôkonjo, a reference to it as a place where the spirits were invoked. It was renamed Yasukuni Shrine (lit. "peaceful country shrine") by the Meiji Emperor in 1879, with the implication that the country enjoys peace and security because of the sacrifices made by those enshrined there.
Records are kept of the names of the individuals whose spirits are enshrined at Yasukuni. Over 14,500 war dead were enshrined there in 1869-1894, another 12,800 following the Sino-Japanese War, and another 85,500 in a series of three enshrinement ceremonies following the Russo-Japanese War. Today, the total number of war dead enshrined at Yasukuni number more than 2.5 million.
The shrine observes two three-day festivals each year - once in April, and once in October - in which an Imperial messenger presents formal offerings from the Imperial Household to the spirits, and reads a formal Imperial message to the spirits.
Gates and Structures
The dai-ichi torii, the first torii one comes across when approaching the shrine, is 25 meters tall, the largest in the country when it was erected in 1974. The daini torii, closer in towards the center of the shrine, was erected in 1887, replacing the previous wooden gate. It is the largest, and earliest, bronze torii in the country. A bronze statue of Ômura Masujirô which stands between these two torii was the first non-Buddhist bronze statue erected in Tokyo, and the first to depict, celebrate, and honor a national hero in the fashion of Western nationalist displays.
The wooden chûmon, or Third Gate, leading directly into the central plaza was built in 1934, and restored 60 years later. Though the shrine no longer has any official connection to the government or to the Imperial Household, the heavy cypress doors on this gate bear metal chrysanthemum crests 1.5 meters in diameter. One final torii stands between the chûmon and the main worship hall (haiden).
The grounds also include a war museum called the Yûshûkan (遊就館), housed in a building by Giovanni Vincenzo Cappelletti, completed and opened in 1882. Though opened even before the Sino-Japanese War, and presumably focusing originally on the Boshin War and shizoku rebellions of the 1870s, the museum today focuses chiefly on World War II, and contains a great many artifacts from Japan's modern wars. The museum is quite controversial for the strong right-wing / nationalistic / militarist bias in the way the museum represents the war, and Japan's involvement in it.
- Plaques on-site.
- Pamphlets obtained on-site.
- Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 126.
- Fujitani, 122.
- Fujitani, 17.; Suzuki Eka, "Building Statues of Japanese Governors: Monumental Bronze Sculptures and Colonial Cooperation in Taiwan under Japanese Rule," presentation at 2013 UCSB International Conference on Taiwan Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, 7 Dec 2013.; Though a large bronze statue of Yamato Takeru in Kenrokuen in Kanazawa preceded the Ômura statue by some 13 years, Yamato Takeru is associated with the ancient and legendary foundations of Japan, whereas Ômura's statue was the first of a series of statues erected in the 1890s and into the 20th century depicting and honoring more historical and relatively contemporary figures of more direct association with either the defense of the Imperial institution (as in the case of Kusunoki Masashige), or the establishment of the modern Imperial state (as in the case of Ômura and Saigô Takamori). While many such statues survive today, many more were torn down by the Allied Occupation authorities, as elements of prewar and wartime ultranationalism.
- Fujitani, 37, 122.