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


  1. Martin says

    Seems to me that it is mostly of a social event with an underlying theme of patriotism. Nothing wrong with that. World war 2 was a long time ago. People need to grow up and deal with the world’s current problems which make the acts of a few “war criminals” look pretty tame.

    • says

      As usual with Yasukuni, it was in no way straightforward. There was a good amount of healthy patriotism, a real respect for those who died, and a desire for Japan to never go down that road again.

      But. And there always seems to be a but. The far right really were out in force, and the vitriol they aimed at the left-wing pro-peace marchers was truly shocking. Finding myself in amongst the rightists, it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in Japan. Very unpleasant to say the least.

      And you are right. People/the nation really needs to move on, but sadly that possibility still seems a long way away…

      • ying says

        I think moving on from the grudges from World War II is being made difficult from the Japanese and other East Asian governments themselves, who all say that they are pro-peace but never teach their citizens clearly about why this war happened in the context of imperialism in their history curriculum. Instead, all the countries that were invaded or occupied by Japan during World War II would only teach their citizens about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II and the Japanese history curriculum only discusses their Japanese activities in World War II vaguely. In the end, citizens in countries that were invaded by Japan during World War II would always to some extent think that Japanese people are doing them an injustice for “ignoring” what happened in World War II, while Japanese people do not always understand why these people are so angry. This creates a vicious cycle of seeing another country as an “enemy,” which encourages the nationalism that was a cause of World War II in the first place.

        • says

          Very well put. I couldn’t agree more. A horribly vicious circle that Abe now seem intent on completing…

          Like you say, education is key, and encouragingly there was an organisation just outside Yasukuni opposing the cherry picking of facts if you will that has been an ongoing problem with Japanese history textbooks. But all these years on, it’s still incredibly disheartening that we are still nowhere near a genuine breakthrough. In fact it’s hard to imagine when there will be one.

  2. says

    Already mentioned in the comments above, but certainly education is key. My concern though is that with economic recession and misinformation when it comes to historical events comes military action. (I can’t help but look at post WWI Germany.)
    Like you said though, most of it is true commemoration for those who died, plus the “but” ー which I had to deal with in the form of trucks blaring out garbled nonsense while making the rounds around Minato-ku on that day. (Admittedly they do this almost every Friday as they whine around the Korean and Chinese embassies, but there were definitely more last week.)

    Sorry, found your blog and appear to be stuck on it! ^^ Great photos and interesting topics. :)

    • says

      No problem at all. Glad to hear you like what you see!

      Yes, Japan’s ongoing economic woes and the gradual fracturing of society into the rich and poor, the permanently employed and the growing ranks of temp workers, don’t bode well. Then add Abe and his ilk into the mix and it’s a recipe for a worrying shift to the right, along with a harking back to the past. Hopefully I’m being overly pessimistic, but the events of the last 12 months or so, with the constitutional shift and the secrecy bill, seem to suggest otherwise…

    • says

      Yes. And the line goes back further down the street. Quite an incredible sight.

      Neither really. Or at least I think so. They were part of a Yasukuni Shrine group/organisation. Quite what they stand for, or indeed what they do I don’t know, but politics-wise there didn’t appear to be any agenda. It was all very relaxed and happy too.

  3. Squidpuppy says

    What a nice helmet. When they pull down those bubble face shields, they remind me of Ultra Keibitai. The Japanese Riot Police just look so much more pleasant and well behaved than their counterparts in most other countries – never mind the ridiculously militarized police in the USA. The Japanese Riot Police appear to have adequate protective gear without looking like Darth Vader’s personal stormtrooper guard; they don’t look so much like the bad guys.

    • says

      That’s very true, especially so when one considers what’s happening in the US at the moment…

      And yeah, they were very pleasant. Admittedly there were plenty of them, but late in the afternoon they had a lot to deal with. And that was after standing about all day in the heat. But there was no aggro. None in the slightest. Just quietly and competently keeping people in order.

      • Squidpuppy says

        Say what you will about the Japanese Police, and sure, there’s no little bit to say, but the average cop really does seem to embody the “protect and serve” ideal much better than any other police force I’ve ever dealt with. Is it still generally true that Japanese, on the whole, don’t fear the police – by default and as a matter of principal? It was very much like that when I was there.

        In the USA just seeing a cop, even under the most ordinary of circumstances, produces vague feelings of paranoia and alarm in the surrounding public – it’s palpable. A sorry state of affairs. The default reaction is distrust and fear.

        • says

          To be honest I’ve had very little experience of dealing with the police here, although on a recent trip to Hokkaido, I was given the nicest telling off ever by a cop who was well within his rights to book me considering how fast I was going. He even wished me a nice trip. Lovely fella.

          But yeah, there definitely isn’t a fear of the police. On the contrary really. Numerous times I’ve seen people challenging them, which has to be a good sign.

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