Meeting Again at Yasukuni by Ayako Sono (2)

I have kept on visiting Yasukuni Shrine during and after the war. I currently visit in the early morning of August 15 every year. In May ten years ago, I had an operation for a severely broken leg, but even in August of that year, I decided to visit on a cane and get as close as I could to the Main Hall. Nevertheless, I couldn’t get very close because of the swollen scar, so I bowed to the Main Shrine below the nearest gate.
The difference of faiths didn’t matter. During the war, most Japanese people somehow had a hunch that they wouldn’t come back home alive once they got drafted and went to the battlefront. Indeed, death is the one-off great unknown experience for human beings. I believe it was impossible for naïve young men at the age of 19 and 20 grown up in farm villages and fishing villages to be resolved and write a death poem, write a will, and express what they feel to their friends. They could have done them if they had been a bit older.
They maybe talked casually with each other with the hope of return and meeting again, but when someone said, “Where will we meet again?” it was somewhat difficult to respond, unlike in peacetime. Young people today would designate their regular coffee shop or their alma mater as their places of reunion. They can change the place of reunion by mobile phone or e-mail. However, in those days, even landline was not common.
Moreover, if they had got killed in battle, where they should meet again? I suppose they said, “Let’s meet at Yasukuni” in order to recognize obliquely the change in their destiny to each other. When the war ended, I, a 13-year-old girl, was really realistic. During the war, the towns in Tokyo got burned down here and there. Right after the bombings, because the major buildings of Ginza were all burned down, we had to call “the ruins of something” when we designated some place. There were fewer and fewer places for meeting.
Tokyo Station is too big for a meeting spot. I felt that what survived the bombings were only the statue of Saigo-san at Ueno, the statue of Hachiko at Shibuya, and the place in front of Yasukuni’s Main Hall. Noble spirits of the war dead and those returned from the battlefronts can meet again at the Shrine, so I visit Yasukuni, following the thought of noble spirits and those returned from the battlefields.
It’s refreshing to see the visitors in the morning of August 15. Even before 7 a.m., many kinds of people visit the Shrine: office workers, indeed, students, homemakers, young females, and elder people unsteady on their legs. Every such person was walking on the gravel path without speaking. Although some people criticize Prime Minister’s visit to the Shrine, I believe these various kinds of silent visitors respond to the criticism.

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