Constructed in 1869, the Yasukuni Jinja (????), or shrine, was created by Emperor Meiji to honor those that perished in service to the Empire of Japan.
More than 2.4 million souls have been immortalized in this Shinto shrine from the Boshin War to the conclusion of World War II (or the Greater East Asian War as it is referred to in Japan).
The shrine is not limited to soldiers and includes the names of relief aid workers, factory personnel, citizens, and those not of Japanese ethnicity, such as Taiwanese and Koreans who served Japan. The adjacent Yaukuni Chinreisha houses the enshrined souls of those who fought in opposition to the Emperor and includes members from the UK, United States, China, Korea, and other Southeast Asian forces.
When the Emperor Meiji visited for the first time he said, "I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine." Emperor Meiji gave the shine the name Yasukuni, after his desire to preserve peace. The individuals enshrined, regardless of their rank or social standing, are considered equals and worshiped as venerable divinities of Yasukuni.
It's this last trait, which has caused controversy surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine. Multiple Class-A War Criminals have been added to the shrine because the only requirement for being enshrined is to have died in service of the Empire of Japan, as such some felt there was no reason to exclude them. Those attending the Yasukuni Shrine to worship do not go specifically to pay tribute those war criminals; however, because all enshrined are considered equal, no distinction is made between individuals during prayer. Over 85% of the names listed in the shrine belong to those that died during World War II, adding to regional tensions when politicians visit during major ceremonies.
These tensions are sometimes further exacerbated by some additional displays located on the Yasukuni grounds. These include statues animals used by the military, "War Widows" who raised their children after losing their husbands in wartime, and one dedicated to Kamikaze Pilots. This last statue is often viewed as glorifying Japan's actions rather than paying tribute to those obeying orders amounting to death sentences.
The Y?sh?kan (???) or War Memorial Museum also is a controversial building. The exhibits on display are impressive, including a fully restored Zero. But some displays show a retelling of events not shared by the rest of the world.
When reflecting on the Yasukuni Shrine, one must not forget this is first and foremost a religious facility and separate from the Japanese Government. Many nations condemn Japanese officials for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine when, in fact, they are simply exercising their personal freedom to express religion. However, the inaccuracies inside the Y?sh?kan are not a form of religious expression and should be criticized. They portray a distorted view of history and should be corrected. Doing so would qualm any notion that Japan has a revisionist view of the past and clearly reinforce the shrine's religious purpose.
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