Secular Memorialization

April 15, 2008

My last post on the Yasukuni documentary got me looking around for other stuff on the politics of war memorials in general. While I have mostly found so far that I will need to go to the library and check out actual books, I did come across an interesting article on Sino-Japanese relations in a 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, which contained the following intriguing paragraph with a suggestion on how to handle the Yasukuni issue:

[C]onferences … involving academics from neutral countries such as Canada as well as Asian specialists from within the region, could improve relations by fostering less-politicized discussions of the war. Germany and Poland, as well as Japan and South Korea, already have joint textbook commissions that could serve as models for China and Japan. An initiative such as this could be particularly effective at de-escalating tensions in the wake of progress in the strategic dialogues outlined above. To help those dialogues along, moreover, U.S. officials should refrain from making casual pronouncements on the delicate matter of wartime commemoration in Japan. As Koizumi has noted, many personal issues are involved in such events. The Japanese people themselves, however, deserve the broadest possible range of options about how to remember the war. For several years, there has been spirited discussion about building a national secular war memorial to supplement Yasukuni, and this deserves serious consideration. Such a model has worked well in both Hiroshima and Okinawa. Apart from providing a way to commemorate the sacrifice of civilians and other heroes of past conflicts not enshrined at Yasukuni, a secular memorial would clearly help improve Japan’s relations with other countries in the region and provide foreign leaders with a way to gracefully honor the past sacrifices of the Japanese people.

-Calder, Kent E., “China and Japan’s Simmering Rivalry,” Foreign Affairs, 85(2)

(emphasis mine)

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Yasukuni Documentary

April 15, 2008

I’ve written about the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan before, and all the controversy it causes, especially every year when the prime minister decides to go or not to go to pay respects. I was therefore very interested to read this article on the BBC yesterday all about a documentary that has been made about the shrine, simply called “Yasukuni,” by a Chinese director. It sounds fascinating to me, especially its attempts to understand what the shrine represents to differing groups:

In all, Li Ying has spent 10 years, on and off, making the film.

During visits to Yasukuni he says he was at times threatened, abused, and on occasion had his equipment confiscated. Newspapers here have reported that he has received death threats.

He says he set out to try to understand better what the shrine means to Japanese people.


To many it is one of the most sacred places in Japan. To others it is a place they feel glorifies war.

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