Peace and goodwill seem to be in rather short supply in the Far East, with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe paying homage at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni wartime shrine, provoking a sharp rebuke from China within an hour of his visit. Abe’s appearance at the shrine - dedicated to those who died for the Empire of Japan, including the general responsible for Pear Harbour – also coincided with the 120th (hypothetical) birthday of Mao.
Imagine if Angela Merkel were to get up one morning, put on her best togs and make a state visit to a German shrine that venerates Hitler. The world outrage would be as nothing compared to the horrified reaction from Germans. Yet Japan’s new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has indicated that he intends to pay homage at the Yasukuni shrine… The shrine owns a museum that may be politely called ‘revisionist’, displaying Imperial Army memorabilia ranging from military badges to suicide torpedoes.
For decades, Japan has been prevented from rearming by its pacifist constitution, much valued by the parts of Asia where memories of its wartime record remain vivid. If Abe does go to the shrine — as he did as opposition leader — it would be an outward sign of Japan’s new wave of ultra–patriotism. And the Japanese are by no means aghast at all this. Abe’s cabinet includes 14 members of the League for Going to Worship Together at Yasukuni. Tomomi Inada, the minister running administrative reform, has denied that the 1937 Nanking Massacre ever took place. Hakubun Shimomura, his education minister, wants to overturn the verdicts of Tokyo’s war crimes trials.