Uniform-clad nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine on National Foundation Day

Similar to places in other parts of the world, Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine is a place dedicated to the memory of those who died fighting for their country, with its current Symbolic Registry of Divinities listing the names of some 2,466,000 enshrined men and women.

The problem with Yasukuni, however, is that included in that number are 1,068 Class-B and Class-C war criminals, plus, even more controversially, 14 suspected Class-A criminals. A situation that not surprisingly makes the shrine a political issue in Japan itself, and a far bigger problem when it comes to the country’s already fractious relations with its Asian neighbours — especially so when top ranked politicians, whether in an official or unofficial capacity, make high profile visits to pay their respects to those enshrined there.

And yet that said, on most occasions, Yasukuni is a peaceful place, with the only activity being a relatively steady stream of generally older visitors. People who are quite possibly there to offer prayers to family members or fallen comrades.

But on politically sensitive days, or those with national significance, it can be a very different place indeed, as it’s the destination of choice for Japan’s black truck-borne, uniform-clad, nationalists. Like on Friday for example, as it was National Foundation Day. Photographs of which, without any further comment from me, are posted below.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine


    • says

      Thanks! Nah, I shot in colour with the idea of just toning down the colours a bit, but in the end black & white gave them so much more atmosphere. Especially with the snow.

  1. Tres says

    Those are some really cool shots. They must have been freezing their balls off dressed like that though.

    • says

      Cheers. Yeah, they looked relieved when they finally broke ranks. Then it was off in their black vans to pollute the city with their propaganda…

    • says

      Thanks Biggie. We were very lucky. A bit later and we’d have missed the whole thing, and although it was miserable to walk around in, the weather gave the photos so much more atmosphere.

  2. says

    Well, I had extreme political views and deep resentments… then I grew up and got the attention of the gender I prefer. Tossers.

  3. says

    B&W make these pictures timeless, with no particular epoch. And the gents in their lax uniforms look more like POW to me.

  4. says

    It’s interesting – but I had the same initial reaction to Ed…. they looked more like the sorrowful faces of those interned than those proud of their views.

    Yasukuni is a lightning rod for the expression of extreme views – but only because people make it so. It is what it is. A memorial – and as such it should engender respect (no matter what your views). Unfortunately it can be disrespected as much by native Japanese as by foreigners. Your very good photos highlight just this point.

    • says

      Thanks Ben.

      Yes, it’s a real shame for those who want to simply go and pay their respects there without any political overtones whatsoever. And even though most of the time that’s possible, the shrine has been forever tarnished. Not the way it should be at all.

  5. Willy says

    Had a discussion with a Chinese national vis Japan’s unsavory past the other day. At least in japan, they have the right to debate these things. Well, that was my take on it. .. but dogma won’t go away, whatever county you happen to be in. But at least if you live in one that allows the debate, that seems to make a fundamental difference (in that lives are not lost over ideologies). The Chinese lady even agreed with that. She lives here in Australia. A country of debaters! (mostly not very good at it!)
    Perhaps enshrining debate as an indispensable addendum to the enshrining of the results of dogma etc is a good thing.

    • says

      Very true Willy. Coincidentally I was at Yasukuni with a Chinese national when I took the photos. She was a little taken aback to say the least.

      • Willy says

        I bet. A hard history. After I wrote I realized I had forgotten to complement you on your journalistic prowess. You’re doing good work Lee. Fun, thoughtful, enlightening and entertaining. Damn good shit!
        keep it up!

    • says

      Cheers Jonathan! It was one of those rare occasions (at least for me) when everything came together perfectly. Really couldn’t have asked for more.

    • says

      Thanks Thomas. It really was quite a sight. And almost totally silent too. A unique experience for sure.

  6. says

    Awesome pics!!
    Love the one with the guy wearing sunglasses….in the snow…on a cloudy day…..in a place to pay “respects”.

    He needs a good fucking slap for the FAIL. Honoring your dead of any class is your right but show some class.

    Again…awesome pics dude!

    • says

      Thanks Damon. I was only there as my mate and his girlfriend were visiting. And even then if we’d arrived 10 minutes later we’d have missed it. Very very lucky indeed. And especially so with the snow.

  7. kurisu says

    Exceptional composition, wonderful depth of field and good choice to go with the black and white. I like the last one best, though all are outstanding. Cheers

    • says

      Thank you very much Kurisu. It was such a unique moment, particularly with the snow, that I was really pleased that I managed to get some decent shots.

  8. Kim Benbow says

    Really stunning – you have captured so much complexity in a visually stunning way. Kudos

    • says

      Thanks a lot Kim. It was an extraordinary moment, so I’m just glad I did it at least some justice.

  9. Matt Hainer says

    I must say, absolutely beautiful pictures, you really did a fantastic job with them. Now, i am not for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Chinese, but it should be noted that these crimes happened around 75 years ago, the leaders of Japan had nothing to do with it. The Yasukuni Shrine is meant to remember those who fought and died for Imperial Japan, and regardless if some of them are guilty of War Crimes, it would appear that China needs to get over it, and as for Japan; the United States Embargo was the key reason that provoked Japan into starting World War 2, and Economic instability is what casued them to invade China in search of more Oil and other products not native to Japan. Complete Nationalism is going to far with pride, but the Japanese side of this story should be better understood, and i am not defending her War Crimes, but i’m defending a memorial towards over 2 million souls who died fighting for their country, and a few of the reasons why they died in the first place.

  10. Matt Hainer says

    “…the leaders of Japan had nothing to do with it.”

    I apologize for my mistake, but with this statement, I meant Japan’s current leaders, not past.

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