In defiance of its name, literally translated as “Peaceful Nation,” Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine seems to provoke a fight with every mention. Notorious for embracing war criminals among its venerated spirits, Yasukuni today remains one of several historical grudges weighing on Japan’s relationships with its neighbors, primarily China and South Korea.
But unlike other issues, such as comfort women and textbook censorship, Yasukuni is identified with a particular date, Japan’s Aug. 15 World War II surrender in 1945. Every anniversary, high-level Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni to pay their respects, each time emerging to a news media firestorm that ignites painful East Asian memories of Japanese aggression and erodes the prospects of regional cooperation. These visits have long proven to be mistakes that can and should be avoided.
This year has been no different. While Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not pay tribute in person – likely to avoid further straining relations with China and South Korea – his representative made an offering at the shrine on his behalf, while two cabinet ministers attended in person. China condemned the move and other critics have again denounced the shrine and its museum for glorifying Japan’s violent days of empire and espousing a revisionist history that glosses over its war crimes.
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