Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's fifth visit to the Yasukuni shrine this week on a drizzly morning set off angry protests in Asia. China canceled a visit by the Japanese foreign minister, no small thing. Yasukuni holds the remains of 14 Class A war criminals hanged after World War II, and is regarded as symbol of Japan's perceived failure to atone for its killing sprees in and brutal occupation of Asia 60 years ago.
The Shinto shrine, a solemn wooded acre in downtown Tokyo, private, and filled with purple and yellow chrysanthemums, seems an unlikely focus for either Asian anger or rising Japanese nationalism. Mr. Koizumi says the shrine visits are an internal affair and no one else's business. Some of his advisers feel that if Koizumi keeps visiting, the world will get bored and forget.
Yet a prime reason why that wish may not come true is found on the grounds of the shrine, a few paces from where Koizumi dropped a coin and prayed. It is a boxy refurbished museum called the Yushukan, whose self-professed aim is to "shed a new light on modern Japanese history."
In fact, the museum appears to be regularizing an extremist narrative about Japan's 20th-century military behavior and role in Asia. No mention is made of Japanese soldiers subjugating Asia and its populations. Rather, the new history portrays Japan as both the martyr and savior of Asia, the one country willing to drive "the foreign barbarians," as one panel describes them, from the Orient.
The unapologetic nationalism, emperor worship, and military glorification offer graphic clues about why Asians remain concerned about "the lessons learned" by Japan after the war, to borrow the phrase used often in post-Nazi Germany.
This week, after Koizumi visited the shrine, thousands of Japanese paid $10 to visit Yushukan, with its 20 rooms, high-tech displays, and two theaters. They saw and heard that Japan occupied China and Korea in order to liberate and protect Asia from Russian Bolshevism and European colonialism. They were told the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was "forced" by "a plot" by President Roosevelt. Japanese-led massacres, Korean comfort women, Chinese sex slaves, or tortured POWs are not mentioned. There are only Japanese martyr heroes dying in defense of Japan.
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