I was brought up in an educational institution run by Catholic nuns since I was a kindergarten pupil, so I wasn’t saddened by the opposition between Catholicism and the militarism despite the climate of the militaristic educational system during the war.
With hindsight, that was very fortunate. I also remember that the school didn’t feel pressured to provide militaristic education by the government and the military authorities. The then Ministry of Education didn’t suppress religious education.
It’s no difficult to explain from a Christian’s point of view why monotheistic culture and polytheistic culture, which seem to be in conflict, are, in fact, not at all. Moreover, this matter involves the spirit of the Bible and the essence of Christianity. St. Paul, who established the early church, wrote thirteen letters calling for Christian harmony to the early Christians in various places, who were from human weakness always in conflicts. The spirit of the letters is fully expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you”.
What is written here isn’t that you should sell your soul and play up to others in order to increase the number of believers. The society at that time was the place of the confrontation between the Jews, who were glued to the faith of their religion, and the believers of the newborn Christianity, who got the notion of the new faith called Christianity and who were destined to preach the Gospel surrounded by members of other religions.
In such situation, you should not be stubborn or unwilling to forgive others. St. Paul insisted that Christians should always delight in others’ happiness and grieve at others’ misfortune.
As far as I know, Shintoism in Japan and Catholicism were flexible. That’s why it was possible for us, as Japanese people, to lead our Christian lives naturally and freely and also visit shrines at the same time.
I have kept on visiting Yasukuni Shrine during and after the war. I currently visit in the early morning of August 15 every year. In May ten years ago, I had an operation for a severely broken leg, but even in August of that year, I decided to visit on a cane and get as close as I could to the Main Hall. Nevertheless, I couldn’t get very close because of the swollen scar, so I bowed to the Main Shrine below the nearest gate.
The difference of faiths didn’t matter. During the war, most Japanese people somehow had a hunch that they wouldn’t come back home alive once they got drafted and went to the battlefront. Indeed, death is the one-off great unknown experience for human beings. I believe it was impossible for naïve young men at the age of 19 and 20 grown up in farm villages and fishing villages to be resolved and write a death poem, write a will, and express what they feel to their friends. They could have done them if they had been a bit older.
They maybe talked casually with each other with the hope of return and meeting again, but when someone said, “Where will we meet again?” it was somewhat difficult to respond, unlike in peacetime. Young people today would designate their regular coffee shop or their alma mater as their places of reunion. They can change the place of reunion by mobile phone or e-mail. However, in those days, even landline was not common.
Moreover, if they had got killed in battle, where they should meet again? I suppose they said, “Let’s meet at Yasukuni” in order to recognize obliquely the change in their destiny to each other. When the war ended, I, a 13-year-old girl, was really realistic. During the war, the towns in Tokyo got burned down here and there. Right after the bombings, because the major buildings of Ginza were all burned down, we had to call “the ruins of something” when we designated some place. There were fewer and fewer places for meeting.
Tokyo Station is too big for a meeting spot. I felt that what survived the bombings were only the statue of Saigo-san at Ueno, the statue of Hachiko at Shibuya, and the place in front of Yasukuni’s Main Hall. Noble spirits of the war dead and those returned from the battlefronts can meet again at the Shrine, so I visit Yasukuni, following the thought of noble spirits and those returned from the battlefields.
It’s refreshing to see the visitors in the morning of August 15. Even before 7 a.m., many kinds of people visit the Shrine: office workers, indeed, students, homemakers, young females, and elder people unsteady on their legs. Every such person was walking on the gravel path without speaking. Although some people criticize Prime Minister’s visit to the Shrine, I believe these various kinds of silent visitors respond to the criticism.
On June 7, 2007, I visited the Shrine, accompanying the Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui and his wife. Although the Lee Family and my family are Christian families, they suggested visiting the Shrine together. It was confirmed that Mr. Lee’s older brother, who under the Japanese name Takenori Iwasato sacrificed his life as a sailor in the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Japanese occupation, was worshiped in the Shrine. It was reported that Mr. Lee’s older brother participated in the Southern Operations and was killed in the Philippines, but the specific place of death was unknown and, of course, his ashes were not returned.
Mr. Lee’s father didn’t believe his death in battle. There was no action report of his battle. His ashes were not returned. If you were a parent, you of course would hope your son might be living somewhere. Wounded, helped by local people, perhaps he decided to live together with the helpers’ family, so he may surely come back home sometime. A parent would hope so. Mr. Lee’s father didn’t hold his funeral nor raise his tomb, hoping that he was alive.
I didn’t see Mr. Lee’s father when he was alive. If I had met him, I would have been at a loss for words of apology and thanks. I firmly believed that the reason why the Lee Family wasn’t hostile to Japan is because they were testifying Christian love and forgiveness. Although Mr. and Mrs. Lee didn’t visit the Shrine for many years, I believe that’s because they would face a lot of criticism if they had done so.
Yasukuni welcomed Mr. and Mrs. Lee with warmth and dignity. I at that time wrote, “When they returned to the parlor (after visiting the Main Shrine), something like a certificate is prepared, in which the name, military rank, and unit of the deceased are written. They expressed their gratitude, saying “Thank you for enshrining my older brother for a long time”.
After visiting the Shrine, Mr. Lee said, “Ever since I knew that my older brother is enshrined in Yasukuni, I have wanted to visit the Shrine at any cost. We were close brothers”. Although Mr. Lee usually shows a gentle face, only at that time he looked much like he had endured for a long time. Perhaps because Yasukuni has enshrined his older brother, the first son of the Lee Family finally wasn’t missing nor abandoned, and he died with dignity.
I once visited a cemetery that honors American troops who died during the Invasion of Normandy. Hundreds and thousands of tombstones were lined up as far as the eye could see. I was moved to see no spots, such as bird droppings, on every tombstone. Right before 5 p.m., the time when I just began to read some memorial inscription on the grave, I heard America’s national anthem played in the style of the handbell. Maybe the music was the signal of the closing time.
We went out of the cemetery with some regrets. Right near the exit, a car with a number plate of a US consulate was parked and soldiers in uniform were giving a salute at the cemetery. An ideal country would keep paying homage to those who died for the country. If it weren’t for Yasukuni Shrine, we would have no main place for honoring those who sacrificed their lives for our country.