Remembering the Dead

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Remembering the dead in Japan divides into two distinct issues: remembering the military and remembering civilians. I have discussed the distinction between “active agents” and “passive victims”, and also the responsibility issues stemming from the military’s inability to protect civilians on the home front, at length in the following paper:

Philip Seaton, Family, Friends and Furusato: “Home” in the Formation of Japanese War Memories

The Military War Dead

Remembering the military war dead at a national level takes place at Yasukuni Shrine, the Ceremony of Commemoration for the War Dead on 15 August (see Official Narratives), and the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. There are also local equivalents in the form of Gokoku (“nation-protecting”) Shrines, local ceremonies, and the countless family graves across the country where the dead are buried (see Local History).

Yasukuni Shrine is a deeply controversial site. Visits by politicians (especially prime ministers) trigger diplomatic protests from China and South Korea. To understand the issue, first it is instructive to visit the Yasukuni Shrine website. Yasukuni supporters publish in the right-wing press, such as Japan Forward (an English site produced by the Sankei Shinbun newspaper). The following video gives some of the arguments:

A video by Japan Forward about Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni Shrine has many domestic critics, too. See for example:

Takahashi Tetsuya, The National Politics of the Yasukuni Shrine. 

Wakamiya Yoshibumi and Watanabe Tsuneo, Yomiuri and Asahi Editors Call for a National Memorial to Replace Yasukuni

The three main books in English are by John Breen, Akiko Takenaka, and Mark Mullins. Read open access samples of their work here:

John Breen, Yasukuni Shrine: Ritual and Memory

Akiko Takenaka, Mobilizing Death in Imperial Japan: War and the Origins of the Myth of Yasukuni

Mark Mullins, Public Intellectuals, Neonationalism, and the Politics of Yasukuni Shrine (in Japanese Studies Down Under, p. 145)

Civilian Casualties

Most commemorations for civilians are conducted at the local, not national, level. A good example is Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (HPMM) is run by a municipal organization (Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation), although there is also the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims close to HPMM in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (which is a municipal park). The ceremony on 6 August each year is held by the city government, with the mayor taking the key role. The prime minister is an invited guest. The video below shows the ceremony in 2017 and has English subtitles in places.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony in 2017

As such, most discussion of civilians is in the section Local History, as is discussion of the Hiroshima as wartime event and the debates over whether the A-bombs were necessary to “end the war” and “save lives”.

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