The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is the closest thing they have to it, and you find that it’s very existence, starting with its name, is to discourage the very notion of a military (although, that is changing soon). Earlier this week, a few of us ventured out to the Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda, to attend the Mitama Festival, which is an annual festival to honor the fallen soldiers of Japan.
The Yasukuni Shrine is an extremely controversial shrine due to its association with the enshrinement of a thousand B and C-class war criminals, and 14 A-class war criminals since WWII. All the way up to and during the visit to the shrine, I faced a moral dilemma in going, especially when some of my classmates decided to abstain from going for the historic background of the shrine. However, in a last minute decision, I made the resolve to go as an objective observer of the festival, to better understand the attitude and regard for military history in Japan.
Upon arriving at the shrine, which was packed with Japanese people and foreigners, we were greeted by the large 鳥居, which is a Shinto gate that is in front of most of the temples I have seen in Japan so far. The Mitama Festival is my first Japanese festival, and I found it to skillfully balance of extravagance with simplicity. The path leading up to the shrine consisted of walls of decorative lamps, each of which lit up the name of one of the shrine’s donors.
The area around the shrine itself was relatively minimal, but overflowing with people. The front of shrine was up to where people were allowed to enter the area. Further beyond that point were the approximate 2.5 million souls of dead soldiers and civilians of all of Japan’s wars since the Meiji Restoration period.
The experience was extremely surreal, and I was blown away by the juxtaposition of Japan’s pacifist sentiment and a festival dedicated to fallen heroes. There are so many beautiful, fitting contradictions in Japan. It is what makes this place exciting and new every day that I am here.