There have been two relatively important Japan history-related news items in the news of late. There have been revelations about US covert funding of Japanese political parties (perhaps more on this in another posting) and separately, evidence has emerged, scooped by Nikkei, to suggest that emperor Showa (Hirohito) stopped going to Yasukuni shrine because of his displeasure at the enshrinement 分祀（ぶんし） of war criminals there in October 1978 as martyrs. There has been a lot of speculation over the years the exact reason he stopped going. I will save my own thoughts on this issue for later but in this posting I just want to assemble some of the material on this available in the news online.
Emperor Showa made his last visit to the shrine in November, 1975 after the issue had become more political with prime minister Miki’s (三木武夫) visit on August 15th of that year. A former Imperial Household Agency grand steward who served in the position for ten years beginning in 1978, the late Tomita Tomohiki (富田朝彦 d. Nov. 2003), kept a record of statements made by the emperor. (English: Asahi, Mainichi, NYT, Yomiuri I II, III, BBC Japanese: Asahi I, II, III, IV, V, VI, Mainichi: I, II Yomiuri: I, Sankei: I ) In one of Tomita’s recorded memos from April 28th, 1988, the emperor is quoted as saying, among other things, that:
“Class-A war criminals have been enshrined. Even Matsuoka and Shiratori (have been enshrined). I’ve heard that Tsukuba dealt cautiously with the matter, but …” (Mainichi trans.)
「私は 或（あ）る時に、Ａ級（戦犯）が合祀され その上 松岡、白取（原文のまま）までもが 筑波は慎重に対処してくれたと聞いたが」
“That’s why I haven’t paid a visit to the shrine since then. That’s my belief.” (Mainichi)
The most immediate result of this revelation, if Tomita’s quote of the emperor is to be believed and the emperor is telling the truth (some argue that he did not have the freedom to make this sort of decision alone), will be the end of a long-running debate over the emperor’s motivation for ending his visits. This news, however, can also have, for better or for worse, an influence on the continued debate over whether prime ministers should visit the shrine. Interestingly, if you embrace the classic positions of anti-shrine and anti-emperor left or the the pro-emperor and pro-shrine right (and there are many more positions one could take), what the emperor said or what his motivation for stopping doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the arguments. That doesn’t change the fact that the symbolic and rhetorical value of this issue has already reverberated throughout the Japanese and international media.
Koizumi – Has declared that visiting the shrine is a “personal decision” and will continue to go. See this Yomiuri article on his response.
LDP Party Secretary General Koga Makoto – Is interested in pushing Yasukuni towards removing the war criminals from the shrine.
Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo (Probable future PM)- Casts doubt on the memo on 20th, suggests emperor Showa had several reasons for ending his visits but otherwise seems uncomfortable with the whole thing by 21st. As seen here: 安倍氏は２０日の午前と午後の記者会見で「政府としてコメントすべき立場ではない」などと繰り返すのみ。谷垣財務相も記者団に「天皇陛下がどういうふうにおっしゃったというのを政局と絡めて言うつもりはない」。
Foreign Minister Aso Taro – Has previously indicated that he wants to turn Yasukuni into a state-run facility (and「靖国神社の非宗教法人化」) and has previously suggested that the current emperor should visit the shrine.
Tokyo Governor Ishihara – This Mainichi article quotes Ishihara as saying, on the 21st: 「そのお気持ちはよく分かりますね」と語った。自身が今年も靖国神社を参拝することを明言し、「私が戦争の責任者と思っているＡ級戦犯について祈るつもりは毛頭ない」と語った。 He added his standard take on the trials: 「占領軍が勝手に決めたもので、気の毒な立場の人もいるし、明らかに戦争の責任者もいる」と指摘。戦勝国による東京裁判を「一方的に勝者が敗者を裁く裁判に正当性はないと思う。日本人自身が裁くべきだった」と批判する一方、「裁判に正当性がないと言っても、断罪された人たちに罪がないというのはおかしい」
More on recent political responses in this Yomiuri article.
Yasukuni Shrine’s Response:
The shrine has mostly been responding to suggestions that the war criminals be separated out. As a number of articles have mentioned, the shrine officials have categorically declared that the enshrinement process cannot be reversed and that the government is in no position to pressure the shrine to do anything.
Media Responses (May Update in Future):
Conservative Yomiuri: Supports state facility for mourning the war dead (国立の戦没者追悼施設建設). Editorial on 21st: “It may be advisable to grant Yasukuni Shrine the freedom to conduct religious activities in a manner that fits its wishes, while exploring alternative options for honoring the war dead. Probable measures include erecting a state-run memorial for the war dead or expanding the government-run cemetery for unidentified fallen soldiers in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. We believe considering such alternatives is the only way to resolve the Yasukuni dispute.” In the Japanese version of this editorial: 靖国神社には、宗教法人としての自由な宗教活動を認める。他方で、国立追悼施設の建立、あるいは千鳥ヶ淵戦没者墓苑の拡充などの方法を考えていく。「靖国問題」の解決には、そうした選択肢しかないのではないか。」
Right-Wing Nationalist Sankei: Believes that the Tomita memo should not have any influence on the debate on the shrine, and that it has only limited academic value. See their editorial of the 21st: 「富田氏のメモは後者の説を補強する一つの資料といえるが、それは学問的な評価にとどめるべきであり、Ａ級戦犯分祀の是非論に利用すべきではない。まして、首相の靖国参拝をめぐる是非論と安易に結びつけるようなことがあってはなるまい。」Wants Koizumi to not be influenced in the least and continue to go to the shrine as a “representative of the people”: 小泉純一郎首相は富田氏のメモに左右されず、国民を代表して堂々と靖国神社に参拝してほしい。」
Scholars, Blogs, and the rest (May Update in future):
This Yomiuri article quotes a few responses:
Ikuhiko Hata, a Nippon University lecturer specializing in contemporary history, said: “For many years, I’ve considered Mr. Tomita as being honest and faithful. I would say that the diaries and memos of his that I’ve read are highly reliable and recount what the emperor actually said.”
“Regarding the reasons the emperor stopped visiting the shrine, there has been little evidence from those who were close to the emperor. Therefore, arguments were often premised on speculation. But, the newly discovered memo now provides crucial evidence that Emperor Showa felt displeasure. Future discussions therefore will be made based on this information,” Hata said.
He added: “Matsudaira, the then chief priest, made the decision to enshrine the Class-A war criminals without obtaining consent from the bereaved families, or confirming the emperor’s opinion. The priest should have followed the correct procedures.”
Prof. Isao Tokoro of Kyoto Sangyo University, specializing in legal history, said, “If we assume that the memo actually records Emperor Showa’s remarks, we should examine it very carefully.”
“For example, it is difficult to assess whether the statement ‘even Matsuoka and Shiratori’ indicates that the emperor was critical of the enshrinement of Class-A war criminals per se, or displeased over the enshrinement of certain specific war criminals,” Tokoro said.
“Emperor Showa may have regretted that he authorized the decision to go to war. We should not jump to quick conclusions that he felt such displeasure. Rather, we should reexamine the documents together with the memoirs of late former Grand Chamberlain Yoshihiro Tokugawa, which have already been published,” Tokoro added.
-Yesterday apparently an unlit Molotov coktail was hurled at the headquarters of Nikkei newspaper headquarters, the newspaper which scooped this story. (Japanese: Yomiuri)
-Asahi has an article with some responses by various people they interviewed.
This Asahi article provides a useful list of the 14 enshrined war criminals at Yasukuni, their political/military positions and sentences/fate after the Tokyo trials:
Enshrined War Criminals, the “Showa Martyrs” (昭和殉難者)
This Mainichi article from the 20th provides a useful little Yasukuni timeline:
A closer look at a picture of the passage in Tomita’s records from this Asahi article: