Friday, December 27, 2013

East wind and rain expected after Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni war shrine

Abe behind a Yasukuni shrine priest Dec 26 2013

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe couldn’t stay away for so long from the Yasukuni Shrine because to him, nothing else better symbolises his nationalist attachment to war time sacrifices. Abe and his supporters regularly visit the shrine each August, I saw Shinzo Abe prior to his election in December 2012 haranguing the nationalists crowds on August 15th 2012, the day of Japan’s defeat. He did it again but this time with an official mourning suit of prime minister.

December 26, 2013 is exactly one year day for day after his LDP party victory following one of numerous parliamentary elections Japan went through. At that time, 1 year ago, Abe is seen as the “last reformist chance” by Japan business world. Abe’s powerful team tries to focus on the priorities for Japan: the economy, the survival of its industry, the reconstruction after the triple catastrophe of Tohoku and Fukushima and the hope to boost the archipelago dynamic character in front of what is perceived in Tokyo as aggressive behaviours of Japan’s neighbours such as China and South Korea.

One year after wearing his new clothes of prime minister, Shinzo Abe had to pay back to his supporters and among them to the Shinto shrines association of Japan which donated a lot for LDP political campaigns. These people’s efforts nourished a supportive vote in favour of the LDP hawks, including a lot in cash. The most supportive, especially those who call themselves the “patriots” were waiting for his visit to the Yasukuni. They finally got what they wanted even if it is to create turmoil in the Far East.

Yasukuni Shrine lies in the very heart of Tokyo, near the Budokan, close to the magnificent parks and alleys near the Imperial palace moats, celebrated. Not so far from the national cemetery Chidorigafuchi 千鳥ケ淵戦没者墓苑 where 352,000 unidentified war dead are housed. There lays “the tomb of the unknown soldier" completed in March 1959. It is a public institution, frequently visited by the Emperor and Prime Minister. Recently visited by US State secretary and Defence secretary Kerry and Hagel. But Chidorigafuchi does not fit Japanese hawks psyche.

Built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji, the origin of Yasukuni Shrine is Shokonsha which was established at Kudan, Tokyo in the second year of the Meiji era (1869) renamed as Yasukuni Shrine in 1879. Yasukuni enshrines the spirits of those who “died on public duty of protecting their mother land” according to the Yasukuni Shrine homepage.

The problem is that if the shrine venerates the souls of 2.5 million Japan's war dead, it also honours several convicted Japanese war criminals. Since 1978, the souls of 14 Class A convicted war criminals from World War Two are also enshrined, including Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo executed for war crimes in 1948. Tojo orchestrated the Pearl Harbour bombing of December 7th 1941. The “Day of Infamy” as described then by US president Roosevelt provoked by Tojo and the "War Agitators.” 

Main point of disagreement is that a "private foundation that runs Yasukuni added the 14 most controversial souls surreptitiously” according to Japan watchers. (Jeff Kingston in Japan Times). During World War II, the shrine also served as the “command headquarters” of State Shinto.

Yasukuni Shrine, Kudan, Tokyo

The atmosphere was tense, television carried live video of his motorcade making its way to the shrine and from 11:30 Thursday morning, Abe was the first premier to enter the shrine, seven years after Junichiro Koizumi, in 2006. Helicopters of Japanese TVs were flying dangerously above Yasukuni, while a furious crowd of supporters, reporters and photographs rallied at the shrine. Everyone was prepared to fix the moment on the cameras for a mere 15 minutes. Abe’s visit was not decided in the spur of the moment but was a managed plan realised prior to the New Year celebrations, while Japanese aim at their rare perception of national holidays in honouring their parents and their traditions, one of them is worship of ancestors and commemorate the deceased eternally by enshrining them as object of worship at their home or their place of birth in their “Furusato” 故郷.

"I expressed my sincere condolences, paid my respects and prayed for the souls of all those who made ultimate sacrifices," Abe told reporters after visiting the shrine. Although the hawkish Abe had until today avoided visiting the religious site while Prime Minister, he had said that one of his regrets during his first one year rule as Japan’s leader from 2006 to 2007 was not personally paying his respects at Yasukuni.

He did but the Emperor never did. Akihito never visited the Yasukuni, and his father Emperor Hirohito stopped visiting the war shrine because of displeasure over its 1978 enshrinement of top war criminals: “In a July 31, 2001, entry of his diary, published by the Asahi newspaper, the chamberlain, Ryogo Urabe, wrote that "the direct cause" was that the emperor was "displeased about the inclusion of Class A war criminals" as wrote the New York Times April 2007.

Conflict decades after…
Yasukuni says it honours the nation’s 2.5 million wartime dead, including those convicted of committing atrocities during imperial Japan’s conquest across Asia in the past century. A history museum is located on the shrine’s grounds and if it tells a fair account of Japanese history, it goes totally revisionist at Meiji era, and ends totally wrong in its attempt to minimise Japan’s brutality before and during World War II to the point of labelling the Nanking Massacre, weeks of long slaughter in the former Chinese capital, as an “incident” among lots of other revisionist claims.

Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Kishi Nobusuke, was a wartime minister of Industry, and was arrested as a suspected war criminal by Mac Arthur led Allies occupation forces, then released and carried on with a political career. In a memoir called “Toward a Beautiful Country” Abe described his maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi as a “sincere statesman who only thought about the future of his country.” While Prime Minister in the late 1950s, Kishi, like many other Japanese leaders after him, visited Yasukuni too.

This Abe visit is not just to mourn the bitter taste of the defeat, it comes at a crucial time, Abe just signed a few days ago the largest defence budget hike in nearly twenty years, though a mere 2.8% increase in spending, year on year. Some of the money will be used to support Japan’s defence of the islands of Senkaku Diaoyu rocks located in the East China Sea. Tokyo administers the islets but Beijing also claims them as part of Chinese territory. Added to that territorial dispute unrecognised by Tokyo, Chinese government announced the formation of an East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone that covers these controversial islands, as well as other territory claimed by Korea.

Shinzo Abe talks to Japanese reporters after visit

This is "a gesture of peace" commented to the press at 11:45 Shinzo Abe who added that his visit is not made to hurt Chinese and Korean. But in Beijing and Seoul, segments of the society, nationalist mostly but not only, see the Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo's war time aggression and lack of apologies of Japan for the exactions committed during World War II and that it represents the country's past militarism. They consider that Abe’s visit "will add already tense relations with neighbouring China and South Korea" says commentators. The US embassy in Tokyo said in a statement it was "disappointed" and that Mr Abe's actions would "exacerbate tensions" with Japan's neighbours.

Foreign affairs ministry immediately communicated with lots of advertising messages, perceiving the turmoil overseas, and emailed to foreign journalists based in Japan, and so did the home of the Prime Minister at the Kantei, with these words : ” The purpose of his [Prime Minister Abe] visit today, on the anniversary of his administration's taking office, was to report before the souls of the war dead how his administration worked for one year and to renew the pledge that Japan must never wage a war again. " Also this was added by the “Gaimusho”: “ It is not the PM's intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people. His wish is to respect each other's character, protect freedom and democracy, and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all the previous Prime Ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine. "

China did not read the visit with the same rose glasses. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ex ambassador in Japan, said Mr Abe’s action had pushed Japan in an “extremely dangerous” direction. On the very same day, December 26th, Chinese celebrated national unity with the 120th anniversary of Chairman Mao Zedong’s birthday in Shaoshan, Hunan province.

China could not expect better political misleading strategy and we can deplore years after years that politics and diplomacy once again failed in the North East part of Asia because politics and diplomacy are not employed to avert conflicts, but to make certain that they might be coming and there is nothing more fearful than hearing a politician carrying a message of eternal peace to the world from a sanctuary which harbours war criminals.

Images Yasukuni, Abe, facebook

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ama Female Divers, a Korea Japan shared heritage

They are Japanese and Koreans and gather pearls, abalone, turban shells and any kind of delicious seafood from the ocean floor, wearing only a mask! We discover them in Cheju Island, off the southern tip of Korea, which is home to the largest population of Ama (5,000), more than double the entire population of Japanese Ama (2,200). When I first encountered these Ama female divers at Cheju island and later on at Toba, Mie prefecture in Japan, I was absolutely bewildered to see Japanese Ama's resistance and tenacious mindset, some of them over 60 years old and still continuing diving. 

Here they are famous for collecting namako (sea-cucumber) and pearls from oysters. The majority of Ama are women from Japan Ishikawa and Mie prefectures and Korean Cheju island. Ama female divers are to compete for entering the 2015 Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage. "Female divers of Cheju Island have continued with cultural exchanges with Ama divers in the Japan Toba region of Mie Prefecture and the Wajima region of Ishikawa Prefecture writes Akira Nakano of the Asahi shimbun. We can find them all around Japan including on the Pacific coast, near Tokyo in the Chiba prefecture. Spectacular traditional heritage? More than that: "visual acuity, lung capacity and hunter instinct are the defining elements of Ama divers." 

They also know how how to read ocean currents, and keep up with their lifestyle as a reminder that innovative technology is not always what makes a person or a business happier and ever lasting. "This effort [to be recognised by the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage] is critical due to the rapidly ageing population of Ama, most Ama are over 60 years old, and their decline in numbers, a loss of over 80% relative to their peak in the 1950’s. Some local "Ama" associations consist of only a handful of divers and may disappear entirely in the next few years..." But younger generations have now taken the challenge to maintain and revive what is a more than a 2000 years old activity. They are the real "free divers."