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  August 9, 2001 atimes.com  

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Japan

Koizumi's war shrine visit draws shrugs at home
By Edwin Karmiol

TOKYO - "Bayoneting a woman doesn't exactly feel good. If you didn't, you were called a coward and never got promoted. I completely lost my humanity," recounted a former soldier with the Japanese Imperial Army in a documentary film released this year.

"The more I killed, the more I began to enjoy it," said the now-elderly soldier.

His memories of Japan's wartime acts - this one during the years Japan occupied China's Manchuria in the 1930s - was the first time such confessions were publicly made.

The film Japanese Devils focuses on the stories of 14 former soldiers who were convinced by independent film director Minori Matsui to come forward with wartime accounts. The film has been shown to limited groups in Japan and was screened in Germany in February. It will also be shown here again in December.

One former soldier said that after raping a Chinese woman he killed her, dismembered her body and distributed her flesh to his comrades-in-arms because they had not eaten meat for weeks.

Another recalled that he was so enraged by the sight of a woman giving birth that he burned the house with its occupants inside. He did not follow his mother's earlier advice: "If you have to kill in the war, that is fine. But whatever you do, don't touch women and children."

These confessions - many made almost without emotion, some with embarrassed laughter and one with tears - may explain to some here why a planned visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a shrine where wartime criminals are buried is causing so much controversy with Japan's neighbors. The Yasukuni shrine pays tribute to the souls of some 2.5 million soldiers, among them Class A War criminals such as General Hideki Tojo.

Before he became premier earlier this year, Koizumi made a campaign promise to pay his respects at the shrine on August 15, the day that marks Japan's surrender to Allied Forces in 1945. So far he says he intends to keep this promise, although his foreign minister has advised against it and once-colonized countries like China and South Korea are upset by it.

Koizumi said: "I will make a decision after thinking carefully about the issue and listening to the opinions of various people."

"Politicians think it [visit] is important and that it is the right thing to do," said a university professor here. "It is part of a tradition."

But some young Japanese do not seem to care about the so-called domestic significance of such a visit. Actually, many do not appear to know much about the atrocities committed by Japan its invasions of China, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore and Malaysia.

Two teenage girls smiled in an embarrassed way when asked how they became aware of Japan's war of aggression on neighboring countries, the torture of their people and the use hundreds of thousands of "comfort women" or sex slaves for soldiers. But when asked about Koizumi's intention to visit the Yasukuni shrine, they answered in unison: "We don't care if Koizumi goes or not."

Indeed, critics say Japan's effort to whitewash its role during the war years have prevented its young people from grasping the wrongdoings of their elders during the Pacific War. Just this week, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board approved the use of controversial history textbook, written by nationalists, to be used in middle schools.

Asked how he learned about wartime atrocities by Japanese soldiers, 20-year-old Yuzo Nishiyama, an English literature student at Sophia University in Tokyo, said: "When I was 12, one teacher went into more details. But when I studied in the USA, three years, ago, I picked up a book relating to the Rape of Nanjing. In it, I saw a picture of a soldier beheading a Chinese. I really felt bad. I wish this is not going to happen again in the future," said the student, referring to mass killings and pillage Japanese invaders carried out in the northern city of Nanjing in the Thirties.

Koko Hondo, a law major, recalled she had been "depressed and shocked" upon learning about such abuses by her country as a 17- year-old boarding student in Milton Keynes, England. "We know that Japan invaded Asian countries," she pointed out. But "we have to admit that but, at the same time, we have to respect the soldiers who fought for us. They are criminals because we lost the war."

At the same time, groups of Japanese have for years visited colonized countries in Asia, going to areas of battles and apologising to families of those victimized by the imperial soldiers.

In truth, very few Japanese pay attention to the Yasukuni memorial ceremonies. Some groups here have said they would sue Koizumi if he carries out his plan to visit it. Replying to objections made by China and South Korea, he said his purpose would be "to show respect for those who sacrificed their lives for Japan and to reflect with renewed resolve that it should never happen again".

Some say that Yasukuni, while well-attended during summer festivals, is far from the most popular shrines visited by Japanese, and certainly unlike the millions who visit Tokyo's Meiji shrine during New Year's festivities. "Basically, nobody goes to Yasukuni," one professor here said in an interview.

The only eye-catching event at Yasukuni every August 15 is the groups of geriatric veterans, clad in their uniforms, striding in step to the sound of martial music. Occasionally, clashes take place between right-wing groups and anti-war relatives of victims against Yasukuni's commemorations.

Some say they detest going each August, but are bound by history to do so. Said an ex-fighter pilot in his mid-80s: "I go to Yasukuni Shrine every year and I hate it. But it was a kind of pledge we made among us that if we survive, we will make that kind of pilgrimage."

(Inter Press Service)




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