What Can Students Possibly Learn from Yasukuni?

      May 26, 2008 10:18

      The Japanese government last Friday announced its official stance that visits to the Yasukuni war shrine by the country's elementary and middle school students would be suitable. It said the guideline set by the Education Ministry in 1949 prohibiting students from visiting religious sites in accordance with the policies of the Allied General Headquarters had become obsolete with Japan regaining its sovereignty following the 1952 San Francisco Treaty. The Japanese government has made this official in the name of its Cabinet. The Education Ministry is said to be planning to inform schools across the country of this fact through regional boards of education. Following this decision, school visits to Yasukuni are expected to rise.

      Yasukuni honors the spirits of 2.46 million Japanese soldiers who died in the country's modern wars of invasion, including the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, invasion of Manchuria and World War Two. Yasukuni has been the symbol of Japanese imperialism since 1978, when it became home to the memorial tablets of 14 Class-A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Iwane Matsui, responsible for the Nanjing Massacre, and Koki Hirota, who led Japan's policy of invasion. This is why visits to Yasukuni by former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi angered other East Asian nations and became an international problem.

      Yushukan, which is the museum inside Yasukuni that the Japanese government has said is okay for student visits to learn history and culture, is filled with relics celebrating Japan's invasion of other countries. A documentary film is broadcast all day long explaining Japan's wars of invasion as unavoidable conflicts of self-protection, and depicting the key figures of that policy as heroes. There is no need to wonder what thoughts will go through the minds of students who emerge from this place after viewing the bloody underclothes of the war dead, bullet-riddled uniforms and displays of history texts published by a right-wing publisher.

      Last February, the Japanese Foreign Ministry posted on its Internet website documents saying that Dokdo is part of Japanese territory, while the country's Education Ministry instructed the Dokdo islets be described as Japanese in its revised handbook for middle school history teachers. Now, the Japanese Cabinet has opened the doors for the country's students to visit Yasukuni. These incidents lead to predictions that President Lee Myung-bak's plan to forge "future-oriented" ties with Japan may end up going nowhere, meeting the same fate of Seoul's previous such efforts.
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