Documentary Screening: "Spirits of the State"
(28min film produced by John Nelson)
Contextualizing Yasukuni: Its Religious and Political Significance
Moderated by David Satterwhite (Executive Director, Fulbright Program
· "The Yasukuni Shrine in the Context of East Asian Nationalisms"
Phil Deans, Professor of International Affairs, Director of International Affairs Program,
· "Packaging Yasukuni Shrine for International, Political, and Religious Consumers"
John Nelson, Associate Professor of East Asian Religions, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco
· "Mobilizating from the Margins: Domestic Citizen Politics and Yasukuni Shrine"
Brian Masshardt, Lecturer,
Beyond the Yasukuni Crisis
Moderated by Jeff Kingston, Professor of History, Director of Asian Studies,
Temple University, Japan Campus
· "Moratorium to Yasukuni Visit:
Kazuhiko Togo, Senior Lecturer,
former Ambassador of Japan to the
· "The Impact of Yasukuni on Japanese Foreign Policy"
Gerald L. Curtis, Burgess Professor of Political Science,
Commentary on the Conference
"Spirits of the State"
Only two academics in the non-Japanese speaking world have published any refereed articles on Yasukuni. They are John Breen of the
I chatted with Nelson after the seminar and told him that I especially appreciated his efforts to present the shrine debate at first as a place of faith. The key to opening the shrine to dialogue when I interviewed Vice-Chief Priest Yamaguchi Tatebumi was his realization that I had researched Shinto, the nature of the Kami, and the primary identity of Yasukuni, as a place of faith.
Nelson does not ignore the power of the Yushukan, however. In his comments too, he acknowledged that he was not able to incorporate video of the inside of the new museum. He did explain well though how the spirits of the dead and the shrine itself has been politicized, a phenomena which he studies. The spirits have been approbated for another purpose – in this case the purpose of the state.
Synopsis of the Film
The film opens with observations on war, casualties, and remembrance in the 20th century before focusing on how one nation--
--used the deaths of conscripted soldiers to enhance nationalism and reverence for the emperor. One of Japan's oldest religious traditions, Shinto, was appropriated by the state in order to become the spiritual "engine" driving the vehicle of Japan's race towards modernity and industrialization. Patriotism, indoctrination, and state-centered ideology are shown using historical footage and photos of Yasukuni shrine, built in Japan as a religious site to enshrine the spirits of the military dead but also as a place of pageantry and state-sponsored ritual. Using ethnographic footage compiled by the filmmaker as well as images from public relations films made by the shrine in the 1970s, the film provides a rare glimpse of the shrine's priests conducting rituals for the spirits of the dead. Viewers then see how Tokyo 's early war victories turned to retreats and defeat (the "kamikaze" special attack squads are shown) with soldiers promising each other to "meet again (as spirits) at Yasukuni shrine." The film then turns to the problematic status of the shrine in the postwar period, due in part to the inclusion of Class-A war criminals and constitutional prohibitions against the collusion of religion and the state. Audiences see how the shrine, its priests, and its spirits of the military dead remain a powerful resource for politicians espousing patriotism, sacrifice, and nationalism. But these associations are also a source of considerable controversy both within Japan and elsewhere in Japan Asia. The film concludes with scenes from well-known landmarks (the City Hall, Shinjuku, Shibuya) that suggest the Japanese are at a crossroads in how they deal with the history of the war and how they choose to commemorate those who lost their lives for a failed cause. Tokyo
Together, Nelson, Deans, and Masshardt outlined the nature of the shrine and the approbation of the shrine for political purposes (Nelson), the conflict over the shrine in
The one area of research evident both from my research and the panelists is the nature of not only the expropriation of the shrine by the state (a case clearly made by Nelson), but also the culpability of the state in supporting the shrine despite Article 20 of the Constitution. We know that Koizumi’s visits ignore the constitutional ban on taking part in religious practice by the state (although some would say he bows only once, not twice, etc. etc). However, in the question and answer period there was some confusion as to how it was decided that the 2.46 million enshrined Kami were determined to be so, especially the 14 convicted class A war criminals. Deans pointed out that the treaty with
As another participant expressed to me today in an email, it is amazing how little very intelligent people know about Yasukuni Shrine, the debate, why it is a problem, and how it can be solved. IN order to achieve any sort of reconciliation it is absolutely necessary for the facts to be established so that a common understanding can be reached. This is still not the case. It is clear from the final comments made by Curtis in response to my question that the issue is even more complicated that they were able to cover in five hours. I specifically asked how
This in itself is a problem – the Yasukuni shrine debate is immensely complex and difficult to understand, much less come to terms with. The general public has little patience to understand the fine details necessary to clarify in order to address the broad issues. As an example, many relatively intelligent observers cannot understand the nature of a kami, and often misinterpret the name of the shrine itself (not peace country, but pacified country – as in pacifying of the Gods).To understand the Yasukuni debate, one must have a grasp of religion, history, international and domestic politics, law, and in particular the nuances of nationalism in