Yasukuni Shrine – Japan’s Most Contentious Site
Yasukuni Shrine is a site of fierce political contestation. Find out why, plus more vital information, with us.
Yasukuni Shrine is one of Japan’s most high-profile, largely for its politically contentious nature. Accordingly, those seeking an insight into contemporary Japan and its relationship with its past will find much of interest here. What is not controversial, however, is the beauty of the shrine’s flora, particularly the spring cherry blossoms which make the site popular for hanami (flower viewing) celebrations.
Yasukuni Shrine Overview
On visiting Yasukuni Shrine in 1874, Emperor Meiji took to verse in order to express his intentions for the shrine: “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country, that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino.” Yasukuni was to be dedicated to the spirits, or kami, of those who had fought and died for Japan since the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
This dedication stands to this day, now enshrining more than 2.5 million souls. Each of those enshrined, both military and civilian, are held in equal regard and worshiped with reverence.
Yasukuni is perhaps the most politically contentious site in the whole of Japan. Included in the ranks of those enshrined at the site are 1,054 Class-B and Class-C war criminals, and 14 Class-A war criminals from the Second World War. Class-A war criminals are those who committed atrocities during wartime or failed to prevent atrocities from happening. Many of these criminals were sentenced to death at the post-war trials for their roles in such horrifying events as the Nanjing Massacre (1937) and the Bataan Death March (1942). Adjacent to the shrine there also stands a highly revisionist military museum in which the nation’s wartime crimes are underplayed or altogether written over.
Nationalists and members of Japan’s far-right hold the shrine in the highest regard and defend its existence and symbolism with ferocity. Critics, most notably the Chinese and Korean governments representing the victims of Japan’s wartime crimes, as well as the left-wing of Japanese politics, seek to point out the apologism the shrine represents and the offense it causes, not least to the memory of the victims.
Visits to the shrine from the Japanese Prime Minister and members of the legislative Diet have only fanned the flames of controversy. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi even made repeated personal visits to the shrine between 2001 and 2006.
In spite of its notoriety, Yasukuni is still popular among visitors. The annual Mitami Matsuri (Lantern Festival) held annually over five days (July 13th – 17th) attracts large crowds of revelers for the spectacular show of lights, dancing and music. What’s more, in sakura (cherry blossom) season, the shrine is one of the city’s most beautiful. Meteorologists even use the shrine as the official indicator of the beginning and end of the season.
Address: 3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda, Tokyo 102-8246
Phone: +81 03-3261-8326
Getting to Yasukuni Shrine
A two-minute walk from Kudanshita Station on the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon and Tozai Lines.
Duration of Visit
Half a day is enough.
All year. 6am – 7pm (6pm March – April, 5pm November – February)
Free (museum 800 yen)