Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Every year on National Foundation Day, a large number of Japanese nationalists gather for a Shinto ceremony at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine. An event documented on this site in a series of photos last year, and also several years earlier in the snow.

Perhaps surprisingly it’s an unusually sombre affair, which is a huge contrast to how one usually sees Japan’s far-right factions — either strutting about peacock-like, or blasting the populace with ear splitting, hateful propaganda from their speaker-equipped trucks. A ceremony that in total lasts no more than 15 minutes or so, and is conducted in almost complete, reverential silence, along with a hard-edged, but at the same time undeniable solemnity. Elements that, despite the repugnant, archaic views of those participating, and the way they will inevitably behave once leaving the shrine, make the whole spectacle really quite impressive — oddly moving even. Causing this onlooker to briefly, and begrudgingly, respect those paying their respects.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine on August 15: The anniversary of Japan’s surrender

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.

Yasukuni Shrine on August 15 the anniversary of Japan