Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s Past


This book is the first authoritative volume in English on Yasukuni, the controversial Shinto shrine in the heart of Tokyo, dedicated to the Japanese war dead. Twelve convicted and two suspected Class A war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni, while the shrine’s museum narrates an account of Japan’s actions in the Second World War that is best described as revisionist. Visits to the shrine by cabinet members often set off protests at home and abroad, especially in China, Korea and Taiwan, and Yasukuni remains a source of considerable mistrust between the Chinese and Japanese governments. Despite the controversy, the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made annual visits from 2001–6. The distinctive feature of this volume is that it sets out neither to commend Yasukuni nor to condemn it; it seeks, rather, to present authoritative yet divergent views, thereby allowing the contributors to render more complex an issue which, in the media at least, has long been portrayed in starkly simplistic terms. It accommodates chapters by leading pro-Yasukuni and anti-Yasukuni Japanese intellectuals; it carries multiple Chinese perspectives; and there are also contributions from Western commmentators who offer their own insights on the shrine and its place in post war Japanese diplomacy, ideology and history.


‘By bringing together a wide range of perspectives and casting Yasukuni in multiple historical, ideological, political and religious frameworks that cut across Japanese, Chinese and international perspectives, this volume contributes much that is fresh and provocative.’ — Mark Selden, Japan Focus

‘The controversial Yasukuni Shrine has become a barometer of the inclinations of the Japanese political elite but we have lacked a dispassionate examination of its history and political significance. John Breen has brought his formidable energies as a researcher and his expertise in the history of Japanese religion to bear on a subject of continuing political significance, and this splendid book ought to dispel much of the myth-making and mistaken suppositions that surround this subject.’ — Professor Peter Kornicki, University of Cambridge


John Breen is Senior Lecturer in Japanese at SOAS, University of London. He has published widely in English and Japanese on issues of state and religion in modern Japan. He is the co-author of Shinto: a Short History.

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