Yasakuni Shrine

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Yasakuni Shrine. Whether you see it as simply a place of respect for the dead or as a source of gasoline that stokes the fires of dangerous nationalism, this is one of the most important places in Japan.

During the second world war, the Japanese were told that if they died in war, their souls would be enshrined as deities at Yasakuni. Their families were told that they would be reincarnated as cherry blossoms on the trees that stood outside the temple. The enshrinement of each did soldier was broadcast to every Japanese citizen over national radio. Taken symbolically as a sign of respect and honor, although the Japanese were extreme and imperialistic, I am moved by how poetic these times were, and get goosebumps thinking about those who parished. Did they die in vain?

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In the sunlight, a Zero rests in the corner of the museum entrance.. Once the most popular fighter plane in the country, it is no longer needed. A symbol for the spirit of war in Japan. The sun rises and sets over this plane each day, and in its presence one senses a feeling like it somehow remembers its past days.

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The Ohka (cherry blossom). Unveiled in the last desperate stages of the war, this aircraft was used exclusively for suicide missions.  No wheels, no guns, no turning back. Just a man in a rocket loaded with explosives and a crosshair to aim his trajectory towards death.

I stood below this plane in front of an original version of its water-based counterpart, the kaiten (suicide-mission submarine), and I thought about how just over 60 years ago, these machines were constructed to kill me. Perhaps the hearts of the makers of these weapons have changed, but their creations, these death machines, again, seemed unable to forget. Before taking off on their final flight, the “Kamikaze” flyers would take a sip of saké and give their comrades their last farewell: “see you at Yasakuni.”

I could tell this place was not often visited by foreigners. Walking through rooms displaying last letters of soldiers to their loved ones, the Japanese visitors around me wept softly. Although we cannot undue the wrongs of the past, I am inspired by the new youthful flowers that bloom each spring after the long dead winter, for time and nature show that there is always a chance for a new beginning.

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