During an interview with Foreign Affairs last May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared Japan's Yasukuni Shrine with the Arlington National Cemetery of the US, claiming that both honor war dead who sacrificed for their country.
"About the Yasukuni Shrine, let me humbly urge you to think about your own place to pay homage to the war dead, Arlington National Cemetery, in the United States. The presidents of the United States go there, and as Japan's prime minister, I have visited," the Japanese Prime Minister said, and he matched his words with a high-profile visit to the shrine on December 26, 2013.
The following is an article published on The National Interest's website January 16 by Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, a Washington-based non-profit research center, who refutes Abe's analogy and calls Japan's World War II shrine "a place of defiance, not memory".
Sorry, Japan: Yasukuni Is Not Arlington
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe made a well-planned and well-publicized visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Christmas Day in the United States. The Shrine gives special recognition to war criminals tried after Japan's surrender in 1945 and has long been an unhappy reminder of the vast damage Japan inflicted upon Asians and Westerners during World War II. Nevertheless, Abe brushed aside criticism by saying that going to Yasukuni is no different than an American president’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
This analogy is mistaken, and the differences between the two places explain why the Prime Minister's visit is so provocative. The two memorials share neither the same history nor spirit. Although both were the result of civil wars, Yasukuni now focuses on the idealization of the Pacific Theater of WWII, while Arlington records the continuing sorrow of a nation.
Arlington National Cemetery was created from the estate of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederacy’s armies. Occupying Union Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs appropriated the grounds around the mansion in 1864 to use as a military cemetery. Meigs wanted to ensure that if the Lee family returned, tombstones and widows in mourning would surround their home. The intent was for Lee's estate to symbolize the pain and suffering caused by the South's engaging in the Civil War.
Unlike Yasukuni, Arlington is a cemetery. The bodies or ashes of those who served and their family members are interred on the grounds. The fallen will continue to rest there as long as the United States exists.
None of this is true at Yasukuni. It is a religious shrine established in 1869 to embed the supremacy of the Shinto faith, the divinity of the Emperor, and the centrality of the Imperial institution into the national polity. At Yasukuni, those fighting for the Emperor from the civil wars of mid-nineteenth century Japan through the end of the Pacific War were transformed into divine spirits to join as one with the Emperor. Here the common foot soldier was rewarded in death by becoming equal to the Emperor.
At Arlington, men and women of all religions and races are buried. At Yasukuni only Shinto is practiced and only the souls of identified and approved members of Imperial Japan's military who died on the battlefield can be apotheosized with the Emperor. There are many exceptions, such as the fourteen Class A war criminals who were hanged or died in Sugamo Prison after the Pacific War. Further, some Japanese social classes are not allowed; and the unknown are not represented.