Uchida Masatoshi: The Two Cores of Yasukuni Issue

Uchida Masatoshi is a Japanese lawyer who has proactively sought compensation and apologies from the Japanese government for the WWII Chinese forced laborers who were captured by the Japanese army and sent to Japan. In 2016, a compromise was made between Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and the forced laborers, and Uchida Masatoshi was the representative of the forced laborers. He has also been contributing to the betterment of Sino-Japanese relation through writing articles and books, and has received several threatening calls from the right-wingers who are offended by his critical viewpoints. And, of course, he has been paying attention to the Yasukuni Issue.

Many Chinese and Japanese people believe that the Yasukuni Issue can be solved through separating  'class A' war criminals from the Yasukuni Shrine. However, Uchida Masatoshi disagrees with this: "In 2013, Prime Minister Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine and enraged a lot of Chinese and Koreans. On the other hand, many Japanese were offended - they believe that every country has the right to show respect to those who died for their country; however, only Japan was criticized for doing so." Uchida Masatoshi believes that this misconception has been contributing to the Yasukuni Issue: "The Chinese government and Korean government never criticized Japan for showing respect to those who died for the country, but they criticized Japan when the memorial services were held in Yasukuni Shrine. Every year on the 15th of August, the Japanese government holds memorial services in Nippon Budokan, but the Chinese government and Korean government did not complain about them." He pinpoints that, "The general public and mass media in Japan misbelieved that the Yasukuni Shrine has become a taboo since the 'class A' war criminals were honored in the Shrine; hence, they claimed that the Yasukuni Issue could have been solved through separating these criminals from the Shrine. The truth is, 'class A' war criminals are not the core of the Yasukuni issue. Instead, Yasukuni Shrine's monopoly of evocation and kokokushikan are of paramount importance.

Uchida Masatoshi stresses that, from Yasukuni Shrine's aspect, the Sino Japanese War from 1894-1895, the Russo-Japanese War, WWI and WWII are injustice wars: "The history displayed by the Yushukan (a museum in Yasukuni Shrine) pinpointed that Japan engaged these wars in order to protect herself." Evidence can also be found in The Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War; the Emperor of Japan explained that Japan engaged in WWII because Britain and the United States interfered in the war between China and Japan, and also implemented economic sanction on Japan. As a result, Japan was unable to insure its national interest and self-sustainability. Thus, Japan had to engage in the war passively. The emperor also claimed that Japan surrendered for the sake of human civilization, because the atomic bomb might have destroyed human civilization.

“Such kokokushikan (皇国史観) has been misleading Japanese citizens. It is contradicted with the spirits of Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China and Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China, which are still upheld by the current Japanese government. Yasukuni Shrine has been insisting that although wars were evitable, Japan engaged in the war in order to protect the freedom of Japan and other Asian countries. I wondered how the kokokushikan can be preserved till now."

Recently, he found the answer: “Yasukuni Shrine is actually a relatively new shrine. It was built during the Meiji Period. In Japan, there are a lot of shrines which have long histories, and they are graded by the government according to their influence and historical values. It comes as no surprise that Yasukuni Shrine was not a high ranking shrine. What does come as a surprise is that it was actually a low ranking shrine. However, it was still influential because the shrine was directly under the control of Ministry of the Navy and Ministry of Army; so, the shrine enjoyed the monopoly of evocation. In other words, it was the only shrine who could control the souls of the dead soldiers. To insure and strengthen such monopoly, the shrine included the name of every dead soldier who fought for Japan despite the will of the bereaved families. Clearly, only men who are deeply religious will agree with the evocation - the evocation should be built in the foundation of mutual trust.” Unfortunately, the State Shinto forced every bereaved family to agree with the evocation. A lot of Taiwanese and Koreans were forced to fight for Japan and were slain on the battlefield. Thus, the Yasukuni Shrine collected their souls in order to manifest their contribution during the war. Ironically, because these wars were injustice wars and the Rape of Nanjing and Comfort Women Issue had been admitted by the Japanese government, such “glorification” becomes a joke which highlights its unreasonableness. That is why the Yasukuni Issue decided to deny the Rape of Nanjing and Comfort Women Issue, so that the evocation and glorification continues. In a nutshell, if the kokokushikan is proven unreasonable, Yasukuni Shrine's logic simply does not hold any weight.

“In addition, according to the kokokushikan, worshipping ‘class A’ war criminals are considered legal because they are not considered as criminal domestically. Separating ‘class A’ war criminal from the shrine can only be a temporary political solution to Yasukuni Issue.” Only by forcing the Yasukuni Shrine to abandon its monopoly of evocation and kokokushikan can the Yasukuni Issue be solved. “We should never vigorously, openly glorify those who sacrifice for our country, but keep a low profile while commemorating the sacrificed. After all, if Japan openly glorify them, the conflicts regarding war responsibilities might be arisen, which will doubtlessly hinder Sino-Japanese relation”, Uchida Masatoshi added.

The bereaved families actually have been receiving pensions from the Japanese government. While they received such pensions, the names of the dead family members were recorded by the Yasukuni Shrine. “A relation was therefore formed between the bereaved families and the shrine through pensions,” Uchida Masatoshi concluded. “Maybe the Japanese should start asking themselves ‘why the soul of the sacrificed can only be managed by the shrine.' Personally, I believe that the Japanese government should create a non-religious memorial site in order to put an end to Yasukuni Shrine's monopoly of evocation. Moreover, visiting such memorial cite will not enrage other countries.” However, the Japanese government had promised the bereaved families that the sacrificed would be glorified in the shrine. Better still, according to Shintoism, those who died in the battlefield would become ‘avenging spirits’; only through the shrine could the patriotic 'avenging spirits' be purified. Takahashi Tetsuya, a famous Japanese scholar, also worries that such a memorial site will become the second Yasukuni Shrine if it is managed by right-wingers: “Now, I desire no more than to inform more and more people regarding Yasukuni Shrine’s unreasonable monopoly of evocation and kokokushikan.”

This year is the 46th anniversary of normalization of the Sino-Japanese relation. When the Sino-Japanese relation was normalized, China abandoned her right to affix war responsibilities to Japan. As a result, China received a lot of financial support from Japan. “China was anxious for normalization; hence a lot of historical problems were left behind.”

To wind up, Uchida Masatoshi believes that Yasukuni Issue is actually a domestic issue instead of an issue between Japan and China or Japan and Korea. The issue is caused by the unreasonable monopoly of evocation and kokokushikan. Furthermore, as China did not affix the war responsibilities to Japan, Yasukuni Shrine’s monopoly of evocation and kokokushikan were thus untouched, foreshadowing the Yasukuni Issue.