Today marks the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII, although the formal surrender documents were not signed until September 2, 1945 (VJ Day) aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. As I noted in the book, the USS Nashville had been painted a powder blue in anticipation of being the site of the surrender ceremonies due to MacArthur’s affection of and history with the ship. But that was not to be and is sliding off topic from todays’ blog, the continuing issue of Japanese responsibility and accountability for the Pacific War. More specifically, the continuing practice of Japan’s Prime Ministers attending the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo...until now.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan cleanly broke with tradition as he led the Democratic party in shunning the ceremonies at the shrine. It was the first time since the end of WWII that a PM and his entire cabinet did not attend, although the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, in power since WWII until recently, pointedly sent many members. The shrine not only glorifies Kamikaze pilots but also holds the remains of multiple Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo.
"We caused great damage and suffering to many nations during the war, especially to the people of Asia," Kan has stated. And last week he apologized to South Korea for Japan’s brutal rule over that country, lasting from 1910-1945, including the forced service of “comfort women”.
While most Japanese politicians have not acknowledged Japan’s role in WWII, her history still distorted and generally ignored in nationally mandated history textbooks, Prime Minister Kan has take a welcome and courageous step forward in responsibility. What is also needed is an outright acknowledgment and apology from Emperor Akihito, son of WWII Emperor Hirohito (a war criminal by any definition but spared for political reasons), who did attend ceremonies at Yaskuni. This is not to be expected.