Times change, but the obsession with things other than those around us, most certainly doesn’t.
On National Foundation Day, events at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine are surprisingly low-key, with only a gathering of uniform-clad nationalists for a a brief ceremony, along with a smattering of more conventional visitors and curious onlookers. The anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War Two, however, is a very different affair altogether. There are more people to begin with. Way more. Including all manner of far right factions. Then there’s an impeccably observed and very moving minute’s silence held at noon. Plus later on in the day, disturbing and incredibly vocal animosity is directed at pro-peace marchers from the aforementioned right-wingers and their supporters.
Fortunately, however, this aggression was, on the whole, countered by the friendliness of the vast majority of those present — a healthy percentage of whom were keen to stop and talk. So in many ways the image below seemed to sum up the day; namely a huge amount of people, and a quite staggering number of flags. All of which was watched over by a very strong, not to mention extremely visible, police presence.
This young boy may well have been in desperate need of a pee, but for a moment at least, his bladder concerns were put on hold by the mesmerising sight of a Buddhist monk praying in the middle of the street. Praying, perhaps, that the little lad in question could find somewhere to go before things got too desperate.
Despite all the coverage that Japanese trends and technology get, the country is just as traditional as it is modern — maybe even more so. And that’s true in regards both attitudes, and small daily details.
Due to the controversy surrounding the enshrinement of 14 Class-A war criminals, Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine is rarely out of the news. And as such, the commonly named ‘war shrine’ is a constant source of tension between Japan and its neighbours, particularly when the Prime Minister opts to visit in an official capacity — fully aware of the anger it will cause.
Similarly, Yasukuni is also a focal point for Japan’s various nationalist organisations, especially so on politically sensitive, or culturally significant dates. Like yesterday, which was National Foundation Day.
A day that in many ways perfectly sums up the problems and contradictions of Yasukuni. In the morning, there was the regular flow of locals, tourists and veterans — all there to pay their respects or simply to take photographs and look around. Then shortly after lunch, a large number of uniform wearing nationalists were noisily bussed in. A group that once organised, marched in line up to the main shrine area.
Where they stood to attention.
Quietly observed the planned and carefully orchestrated ceremony.
Then did an about-face.
Moved flag bearers back up to the front.
And then made a fairly speedy march back to the entrance.
Their exit once again leaving Yasukuni Shrine to the families and much less antagonistic visitors that it’s generally more accustomed to.
It doesn’t snow all that often in Tokyo. And very rarely as much as it did over the weekend. So when it does, there’s the inevitable chaos and complaining: train services deteriorate, people still attempt to cycle, plus millions of others shiver in uninsulated homes.
But some of the benefits — at least initially — are that it makes an ugly city almost pretty. And pretty things quite beautiful.