Sunday, August 16, 2009

War Is Over – Visiting Yasukuni on August 15th

For those who don’t know – Yasukuni jinja is the very controversial shinto shrine in Tokyo. Well, the shrine itself is not controversial. It’s just a normal shrine, but because it’s dedicated to dead soldiers and because those dead soldiers include several dudes commonly considered elsewhere as war criminals, you can imagine that things can get a little complicated when high ranking Japanese officials visit the shrine to pay their respects. Normally when that happens, I mean, when a Japanese public figure visits the shrine, the noise made by furious Chinese and Koreans can be heard around the world. (But as an aside, the very same Chinese who steam with righteous anger when it comes to Yasukuni seem totally fine with the fact that their very own Chairman Mao himself was responsible for many more deaths during peace time than those Japanese officers during war time.)

And for those who don’t know – August 15th is the day when Japan surrendered in 1945.

War is over

So now you see, it can get quite funky at Yasukuni on August 15th. But not today. Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe visited the shrine (but not Mr. Aso, or "aho"* as he's being commonly referred to these days), but we didn’t see any angry protesters.

Cops in riot gear

There were plenty of cops in full riot gear, which I thought made them look awfully sexy. There were plenty of reinforced paddywagons parked along the street, too. Everybody was ready for some heavy action, the only problem being - there was no action.

Right wing suits

Instead, there were plenty of uyoku dantai (far-right) members (some looking very swanky - dressed in sharp black suits, and what’s up with their meticulously trimmed eyebrows, huh?) and even more ordinary people doing what people do at shrines. Except that today, due to the sheer volume of people, they had to wait their turn.

People waiting with flag

People waiting with flag 2
And waiting...

Girl in crowd
And waiting some more...

There was also some cosplay.

Old guy salute
This guy, Mr. Sanada, has been doing this thing at Yasukuni for years. And not just on August 15th. He's there most days during the week and every weekend year round.

Cosplay 2 

I've seen these guys before, but they're a rival "cosplay" faction and not as friendly and approachable as Mr. Sanada.

Muppets doing cosplay 

Mr. Sanada and his little helpers do this show almost every hour. And when the "soldiers" are not available, he does it himself.

Now, I realize that some may consider it bad taste, but at least it provided much needed (and free!) entertainment for the throngs of natives and gaijins alike during this hot, and otherwise very boring, afternoon.

What I think is bad taste is this.


And please, spare yourself the explanations that swastika is originally a religious symbol. I know that. But their swastikas clearly weren’t of the religious variety. That to me was not only bad taste, but also monumentally stupid. Why? Those guys didn’t consider themselves neo-nazis. They had no clue what a nazi swastika meant and simply thought it was a cool thing to put on their uniforms. And yes, I know that Japan and Nazi Germany were allies in WW2. But so was Italy and somehow the Italians now have more common sense than those Japanese.

But anyway… Considering that we had schlepped to Yasukuni all the way from Utsunomiya (using only Tobu lines - because we had free tickets, which involved getting up at 5AM and making four train changes), you could say that we really wanted to be there. And yes, that’s true. After all, August 15th only comes once a year.

PS. And the cuteness factor was provided courtesy of young right-wingers who were feeling very patriotic today:

Right wing girls 2 

Dressed all in black. Naturally.

I may not like them uyoku dantai folks, but you gotta admit it - those bastards have style.

*) "aho" (アホ) means "stupid" in Japanese

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