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Yasukuni Jinja Yushukan

The two main objectives of the Yushukan, founded in 1882 and Japan's oldest museum, are to honor the war heroes of Japan who gave their lives for their country and to make clear the truth about modern Japanese military history [1]. Yasukuni Jinja, founded as a Shinto shrine in 1869 for the worship of the divine spirits of those persons who sacrificed themselves for their country, operates the Yushukan Museum. During World War II, many members of suicide attack corps and other Japanese soldiers referred to Yasukuni (meaning "peaceful country" in Japanese) as the place where they would meet their families and fellow soldiers after their death in battle. Yasukuni Jinja occupies a large plot of land in central Tokyo and has several buildings, including the main shrine and the Yushukan.

The Yushukan summarizes Japan's military history and displays related items starting with the Meiji Restoration, the Satsuma Rebellion, and the founding of the Yasukuni Jinja in the 1860s. The museum also has a few exhibits related to the Samurai spirit and Japan's military traditions prior to the 1860s. After the addition of a new building and a complete renovation in 2002, the two-floor museum now has two large exhibition halls, twenty exhibition galleries, two theaters, and two special exhibition galleries.

Yasukuni Jinja continues to be the center of controversy between Japan and its Asian neighbors such as China and Korea. The shrine serves as a symbol of Japanese colonialism and nationalism, and visits by Japanese prime ministers to Yasukuni remind these Asian countries that Japan has been slow to apologize for wartime atrocities and to publish school textbooks that give a balanced history of the war. About 2.5 million spirits of individuals who sacrificed themselves for Japan are worshipped at the shrine, but the inclusion of convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tojo causes the most controversy.

 

The Yushukan honors all of Japan's war heroes, and only one display case deals exclusively with the special attack corps, which carried out suicide attacks in World War II. This case explains the history of the formation of the first special attack corps in the Philippines in October 1944. Six exhibition galleries and the Great Exhibition Hall contain displays of some photos, letters, or other items related to the special attack forces.

The three thousand or so small photos displayed in three exhibition galleries at the Yushukan include war dead from both the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army, whereas other Japanese museums with displays about kamikaze attacks cover only Navy or Army operations. Each photo gives the person's name, military branch (Navy or Army), rank, date and place of death, and home prefecture. Unlike other museums with photos of kamikaze pilots, the Yushukan does not identify whether the person was part of the special attack corps and does not give the person's age at death. The photos have no particular order, but the museum has books in several places where one can search for a person by alphabetical order of names or by home prefecture. The photos include several women who died in the line of duty while supporting the military. There is no explanation as to why certain photos are displayed out of the total of 2.5 million persons who gave their lives in battle for Japan.

Although most people associate Japan's wartime suicide attacks with planes, the Navy and Army had other special attack corps used in suicide attacks. The museum has several exhibits about these other special attack corps, such as motorboats with explosive charges. The Great Exhibition Hall displays two weapons with explosive charges used in suicide attacks, an ohka (manned glider with three rocket engines that fired for nine seconds each) and a kaiten (manned torpedo) recovered by the U.S. Navy and on permanent loan to the Yushukan. The museum also has a memorial to those who died in the fukuryu special attack corps. These were sailors wearing protective underwater gear who were to be waiting in shallow water to destroy the enemy's landing craft with explosives attached to the top of a bamboo pole. The Navy never deployed this weapon, but many sailors lost their lives in unsuccessful trials of this suicide attack weapon.

Yasukuni Jinja's museum presents a slanted view of Japan's military history, with highlights of heroic moments but no mention of negative incidents such as foreign comfort women and Unit 731 in Manchuria. The museum gives the nationalist perspective of Japan's war history and tries to portray a military history of which Japanese people should be proud. A theater has continuous showings of a 50-minute film entitled "We Shall Not Forget," which gives the Japanese nationalist perspective that Japan was not at fault in the Nanking massacre in 1937 and that Japanese leaders were wrongly convicted at the Tokyo war crimes trials. The museum has an exhibit that portrays Japan as the key to the liberation of other Asian countries from the U.S. and European powers (Yasukuni Jinja 2003, 84).

Zero Carrier Fighter

 

Before completion of the museum's expansion and renovation in 2002, the Yushukan had very few English translations, but now the museum has extensive English explanations of Japan's military history. The museum director says, "We want more foreigners to visit so we can teach them about Japan's history and why Japan fought" (Murphy 2002). However, many of the letters and other items related to the special attack forces remain without translations. One room has available for reading a book with twenty English translations of letters, diary entries, and other personal papers of "Japan's War Heroes in Their Own Words," which includes items by six kamikaze pilots. These twenty items, which come from books of letters published by Yasukuni Jinja, give foreign visitors a flavor of the contents of the letters displayed at the museum. The large museum bookstore sells many books on Japan's military history, including a few books on the special attack corps, and a wide variety of other books and souvenir items. Eight volumes of letters and diary entries written by Japan's war dead, including many kamikaze pilots, are on sale. An average of one thousand people per day visit the museum (Murphy 2002), and admission costs 800 yen (about $7).

Yasukuni Jinja's web site has a impressive summary of the contents of the museum. The web site contains many statements that reflect Yasukuni Jinja's mission to preach its nationalistic view of Japanese military history, such as the following quote from the home page, "Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia" (Yasukuni Jinja 2004).

Date of most recent visit: April 19, 2008

Link
Note

1. From museum brochure in Japanese.

Sources Cited

Murphy, Paul. 2002. Yasukuni Museum Tugs At Heartstrings To Keep Military Memories Alive. Asahi Shimbun News Service. August 25. <http://www.rense.com/general28/tudg.htm> (February 9, 2004). Originally available at: <http://www.asahi.com/english/feature/K2002081500254.html>

Yasukuni Jinja. 2003. Yasukuni Jinja Yushukan zuroku (Yasukuni Jinja Yushukan in Pictures). Tokyo: Yasukuni Jinja.

Yasukuni Jinja. 2004. Yasukuni Jinja's Home Page. <http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/> (July 8, 2004).