Criminal abuse

HEAVEN forbid that I should seem disrespectful of Chinese sensitivities to memories of Japanese aggression; but Li Ruiyou’s article (Perspective, 10 January) requires some corrections.

The Yasukuni Jinja is not a “shrine to war criminals”. It is a war memorial temple, founded in 1869 in honour of those who died in the civil warfare during the Meiji Restoration, and now commemorating the Japanese soldiers killed in all conflicts since then.

Like all temples in Japan it is beautifully maintained, and is used for the annual sequence of Shinto rites and festivals.

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The state visits to the shrine made regularly by the emperor and other dignitaries are no more surprising than the Queen’s attendance at Armistice Day services.

The Japanese friends who took me to see the Yasukuni Jinja some years ago, like many Japanese, are extremely regretful that the inclusion of some men guilty of crimes in a recent war, among the thousands of names listed there, has distorted external perceptions of the nature and symbolic function of the shrine.

Nor should Mr Li charge the Japanese prime minister with “worshipping Class A war criminals”.

Apart altogether from the fact that the vast majority of soldiers commemorated at the shrine were not criminals, visiting a memorial shrine is not tantamount to worshipping the people commemorated there. Those who attend services at the lovely American Civil War memorial chapel in Columbia, South Carolina, are hardly worshipping the Confederate soldiers.

I am certainly not placed to comment on Chinese or Korean fears of a possible revival of Japanese militarism. But a state visit to a national war memorial by Mr Abe does not deserve to be taken as a dire portent.

Derrick McClure

Rosehill Terrace