I am spending a lot of time in Tokyo lately, I think I have been to Tokyo more times than New York City. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, you see Tokyo is like 10 cities in one. It is so large and diverse and has so many offerings, it reveals different facets to me each time I go there.
I was talking with my wonderful friend Kiyomi a few months ago and she had asked me if I had ever been to Yasukuni Jinja. Nope, but tell me about it and chances are I will get there sooner or later. I had a friend who would travel and ask local people, if you only had one day, what would you do, or what would you not miss. I think that was brilliant, I also do this and find many hidden gems that I normally would not know about. I had already booked a hotel room in Kudanshita and plotted my route to go there on Sunday morning. The name of this blog…’I love only that which they defend…’ is J.R.R. Tolkien from the Two Towers, speaking of swords and weapons and warriors. How fitting for a shrine dedicated to Japanese war dead.
Here’s the website:
But if you don’t want to read all that, I will condense it. The Yasukuni Shrinewas established by Emperor Meiji. When the Emperor Meiji visited for the first time he composed a poem; “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino”. As can be seen in this poem, Yasukuni Shrine was established to commemorate and honor the achievement of those who dedicated their precious lives for their country. The name “Yasukuni,” given by the Emperor Meiji represents wishes for preserving peace of the nation.
So I was a bit of a World War II buff when I was a teenager, but I focused on the European theatre. Indeed, for most of my life if anyone asked me about Japan, I would say, ‘I have no interest in Japan, there is nothing for me there’. This was my thinking for years. I am so glad to eat my words, there is everything for me here.
On to the museum, it was about $10 and in many places, no photography was allowed, but I saw rows of photographs. I wondered looking at these mostly young men, what did they think about? Who did they miss? What were their hopes?
Being there, in this museum was a very strange experience, standing next to a Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter plane. I tend to think of myself as a citizen of the world, not necessarily American, but every once in a while it just rears its head and makes itself known. My husband Michael once said that when he was shot at for the first time in Vietnam, it suddenly occurred to him that someone wanted him dead. Of course it is obvious, but he never took it personally until that happened. I was standing there next to a model of this plane and thought, wow, they really wanted to kill us. I find myself trying to reconcile these peaceful people I live amongst, with their past. I wonder where the samurai spirit went. How our countries were enemies but now we welcome each other as friends.
I visited the Yushukan, the museum, where the soldiers spirits are enshrined as dieties. And there is a feeling there, a presence. It is a good place, probably my favorite shrine yet. Of course, there are those who disagree, there are war criminals enshrined here and foreigners, some Koreans and Chinese as well as other Japanese, think it is a disgrace.
I probably should have put this picture first, welcoming you to the shrine was the Japanese version of Marius…he was the founder of the modern army. Very imposing he watches over you as you enter the gates to the shrine.
As I was leaving, I noticed quite a few large, round boys and followed them. This is one of my habits also, following around a local person and seeing where they go. They probably think I am a stalker! But these young men were on their way to a Sumo tournament, held on the grounds of Yasukuni. I watched as they prepared the ring and then wandered off back to my room.
The next day I had a flight back, but I had time to see a few places before departing. Guided by the texts of a friend, I discovered the shopping districts of Kagurazaka where the geisha houses were and some still are. During the Edo Period, it was located right outside the outer moat of the castle and was known for its geisha houses and restaurants. Some of the geisha houses survive in the district’s narrow alleys to this date.
There was a cute little shrine tucked away at the top of the shopping street, Akaji Jinja, I stopped and gave a little money and paid my respects.
As I still had a little time left, I thought I would check out the park near the Tokyo Tower. I like to discover new places. I had been there before, it turned out, but I was treated to the antics of these young people below.
I hope everyone has a great week, I am planning my next adventure for Nagoya over Memorial Day Weekend, because….why not Nagoya?