Is the Yasukuni Shrine worth a visit? To be honest, I thought the walk through the shrine was peaceful and calming (though not the visit to the Yushukan War Memorial Museum). While I did not agree with some of the descriptions on the signboards, I thought the torii gates were well-constructed. Perhaps it’s a preconceived dislike for the shrine that made me feel a tad uncomfortable. That said, despite the controversy, I think the Yasukuni Shrine is worth a visit, perhaps once in a lifetime. Also, it’s worth noting that not all of those enshrined in Yasukuni are war criminals – many of them passed away due to different wars and were enshrined at various times in history.
The Yasukuni Shrine has deep historical roots. According to Wikipedia, the shrine was founded by Emperor Meiji in June 1869 and commemorates those who died in service of Japan from the Boshin War of 1868–1869 to the First Indochina War of 1946–1954. The shrine’s purpose has been expanded over the years to include those who died in the wars. You can find the names, origins, birthdates, and places of death of more than 2 million men, women, children, and their pet animals. Among those are 1,068 convicted war criminals, 14 of whom are A-Class (leading to the Yasukuni controversies).
As we descended upon Yasukuni Shrine that late morning, we were the only foreign visitors. The shrine was mostly visited by older locals, with some office workers using it as a means to get to another destination. The place felt peaceful till I started reading the signboards. It almost felt like it was a ‘sweeping everything under the carpet’ approach to history, which didn’t sit quite right with me. At that point, I could understand why other countries had actively protested the Japanese leadership’s past visits to the shrine.
Short visit to the war museum at Yasukuni Shrine – Yushukan War Memorial Museum
The walk around Yasukuni Shrine was quite manageable, bordering on pleasant. Till we got to the war museum – the Yushukan War museum. The Straits Times ran an article ‘Museum even more disturbing than Yasukuni Shrine‘. I can’t help but agree. The shrine is relatively peaceful but the lobby of the museum comprised what I found to be subjective and rather warped notions of history. The descriptions lauded those who had sacrificed themselves for ‘the motherland, hometown and families’. It seemed to have conveniently omitted the harm, hurt and damage caused to the families, hometowns and motherlands occupied by the Japanese back then.
The Travelling Squid’s Take
Of course, we refused to pay to enter the museum. The museum lobby and brochure was enough. It’s one thing to check out a controversial place, it’s another to pay to go through a somewhat misguided notion of history. If you were to ask me – is the Yasukuni Shrine worth a visit, I’d say yes, but not the Yushukan War Memorial Museum.
It was somewhat disconcerting to visit the museum, especially with the knowledge that your ancestors had been adversely affected by the Japanese Occupation. I learnt about this account of history from a young age, and till this day, the television programme, ‘The Price of Peace‘ has stuck with me. Standing at the Yushukan War Memorial Museum, reading the museum brochure and looking at the Japanese-flag postcards made me feel like leaving, almost immediately.
Have you been to Yasukuni Shrine? Do share your thoughts.