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Nationalist Commemoration of War Dead

In addition to the Tokyo Trial, Japanese politicians debated how to provide relief for soldiers who had served in the Japanese military during the Asia- Pacific War. In prewar Japan, the military had enjoyed a privileged position. Originally, the Meiji government had established military pensions in 1875, nine years before it had established less generous pensions for civilian bureaucrats. The military pensions also had been deeply rooted in the logic of nationalism, since they had been called onkyu, meaning “bestowed favor” in Japanese. Sacrifices for the nation—ultimately centered on the emperor, the human deity and sovereign—had been defined as worthy and deserving favors from the government. SCAP regarded the military pensions as the mechanism that had facilitated prewar Japan’s militarism, and it suspended them as part of its effort to demilitarize Japanese society.34

The suspension of the military pensions forced injured veterans and bereaved families into economically dire situations. The number of bereaved family members was particularly large, for about 2.3 million soldiers and civilian personnel in the military had been killed during the war. To ameliorate their worsening economic situations, bereaved families formed associations at the prefecture level and then proceeded to create the Bereaved Families Welfare Association (Izoku Kosei Renmei) at the national level in November 1947. At first, SCAP hesitated to authorize the establishment of the association because it feared that the association would interfere with demilitarization. SCAP, however, approved the association after stipulating three conditions—namely, that the association should include in its membership bereaved families of civilians who sacrificed their lives for public good; define mutual assistance as its main purpose; and exclude government officials, purgees, and former military personnel from its board of directors.35

Upon SCAP’s approval, the association proceeded to lobby politicians and the Ministry of Welfare, and both houses of the Diet responded in May

1949 by adopting resolutions that requested the government to provide pensions, condolence money, and social welfare relief for bereaved families. The association also succeeded in electing its president, Nagashima Ginzo, to the House of Councillors in June 1950.36 At its first national meeting in Tokyo in February 1951, the association adopted a resolution declaring that “we bereaved families are war victims who suffered most. Our family members died in the line of duty for the country (kokka). Naturally, the government should compensate (hosho) bereaved families.”37 After the meeting, association members submitted petitions to Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru and house speakers, requesting pensions and other forms of relief.

In response, Yoshida’s government proposed the Bill on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families (Senshobyosha Senbotsusha Izoku Engo Hoan) in March 1952. The bill proposed to provide pensions and condolence money for veterans and bereaved families while limiting eligibility to those who had been officially employed by the government. Oishi Buichi of the ruling Liberal Party explained the spirit of the bill: “It is natural for the government to provide for bereaved families and injured veterans who showed the highest level of patriotism and died for our country, whether war was won or lost.”38 Put another way, the bill was meant “to give thanks and condolences to those who had sacrificed their lives for Japan during the war.”39 This justification of the bill, to honor sacrifices for the Japanese nation, departed from the 1949 Diet resolutions that had critically probed the government’s responsibility for injured veterans and emphasized antiwar sentiments among bereaved families.40

The JSP opposed the bill for two reasons. First, the JSP argued that “relief” (engo) implied governmental paternalism and should be replaced with “compensation” {hosho), which included the Chinese character meaning “to atone” (tsugunau), to clearly define fallen soldiers, bereaved families, and injured veterans as victims of the war that the Japanese government had started.41 Second, the JSP criticized the scope of the proposed pension scheme. The JSP argued that too few funds—about 2.6 percent of the 1952 budget—were allocated to welfare of injured veterans and bereaved families. JSP member Oka Ryoichi cited the example of West Germany, where 24 percent of the 1951 budget had been used to compensate war victims, including civilians, and urged Yoshida’s government to spend the similar amount.42 Moreover, the JSP suggested that pensions be offered not only to bereaved families of fallen soldiers but also to those of technicians and students who had been killed while mobilized for military-related services.43

The JCP raised similar criticisms, but it also went further than the JSP by associating the bill with Japan’s ongoing rearmament. As JCP member Kanda Asano put it, “By limiting the coverage to military personnel that had received direct payment from the government, this bill aims to facilitate Japan’s rearmament. The coverage should be expanded to include all war victims, at least returnees from former colonies, sailors, technicians, mobilized students, female volunteer corps, and those who lost their breadwinners to the atomic bombings.”44 She also questioned why former colonial subjects, such as Koreans, who had been mobilized for war efforts as Japanese citizens, fell outside the scope of the bill simply because they lost Japanese citizenship after the war.45 Thus, the opposition parties argued that all war victims, both military and civilian, should be compensated because they had suffered from the wrong war that the government had started.

Yoshida’s government gave the opposition parties a concession: to base the proposed bill on “the spirit of government compensation” (kokka hosho no seishin), if not “government compensation” per se. The opposition parties still objected, but Yoshida’s government successfully passed the bill in April 1952 and proceeded to submit another bill, proposing to create an additional pension scheme for professional military personnel, including former Class A war criminals. Specifically, the new bill proposed to reinstate the military pensions that SCAP had suspended during the Occupation and to create a two-tiered pension system for two groups of military-related personnel, professional and conscripted. Again, the JSP and the JCP opposed the government’s proposal. JSP member Naruse Banji argued, “The government should compensate all victims of the war in a fair and reasonable fashion. In fact, ordinary citizens suffered most. . . . Professional soldiers were not the only victims. . . . It is extremely hard for me to understand why Class A war criminals, who were responsible for the war, will receive pensions, whereas many other war victims will receive nothing.”46 JCP member Iwama Masao also criticized the comeback of “militarism” lurking behind the proposed bill, which he argued was “written by those who intend to make Japanese people forget the tragedy of the war and wage another one.”47 Despite the strong opposition, Yoshida’s government managed to pass the bill in August 1953 as well as extend pension eligibility to bereaved families of war criminals who had been executed or died while serving their sentences.48

In the midst of political struggles over war-related relief, the Bereaved Families Welfare Association became the Japan Bereaved Families Association (Nihon Izokukai) in March 1953 and began to promote nationalist agendas more explicitly than before. Although the association had previously defined its purpose as “to make efforts to create a peaceful Japan, prevent war, establish perpetual world peace, and therefore contribute to welfare of humankind,” it eliminated these words from its new statement of purpose.49 Instead, the association defined one of its principal goals as “to honor war gods” (eirei no kensho) and “memorial services for war dead” (irei ni kansuru jigyo)5Q Thus, having succeeded in restoring material privileges—pensions— for military-related personnel who had died for the nation, the association now aimed to restore a symbolic privilege for the military war dead. To this end, the association began making efforts to rehabilitate the status of the Yasukuni Shrine, the center of nationalist commemoration in prewar Japan.

In prewar Japan, the government-owned Yasukuni Shrine had enshrined fallen soldiers as “war gods” (eirei) according to Shintoism: the shrine had functioned as the most sacred site of Japanese nationalism to give ultimate, religious meaning to sacrifices for the nation. The shrine had been not only nationalist but also militarist, because it honored soldiers, not civilians. The shrine’s militarist nature also had manifested in its administrative structure in prewar Japan: army and navy generals had controlled the shrine as agents of Emperor Hirohito, the human deity of Shintoism. Precisely because the Yasukuni Shrine had served as the religious center of prewar Japan’s nationalism and militarism, SCAP eliminated government sponsorship of the Yasukuni and other Shinto shrines in December 1945. This separation of religion and state was confirmed by the new constitution that took effect in May 1947. During the Occupation, prime ministers and imperial family members also suspended their visits to the shrine.51 The Yasukuni Shrine was thus stripped of the special status it had enjoyed in prewar Japan.

As soon as the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed, however, Yo- shida Shigeru made a prime ministerial visit to the shrine. After the treaty took effect and Japan officially regained independence, Emperor Hirohito also paid his first postwar visit in October 1952, cheered by about three thousand members of bereaved families.52 Because of the constitutional separation of religion and state, Yoshida’s government did not try to restore government sponsorship of the Yasukuni Shrine, but it did provide special treatment for the shrine. When annual spring and fall festivals to honor war gods were held at the shrine, the government arranged extra train rides and offered discounted fares to help bereaved families come to Tokyo. The government—the Ministry of Welfare in particular—also covertly helped Yasukuni priests enshrine war dead by providing the names of fallen soldiers and the times and places of their deaths. Especially after the newly created LDP took control of government in November 1955, the shrine began to enjoy unofficial government sponsorship to a greater extent. In April 1956, for example, the Ministry ofWelfare issued a directive to guarantee financial and logistical support for the shrine to identify fallen soldiers and enshrine them as war gods.53

The Ministry ofWelfare actively supported the Yasukuni Shrine because it oversaw the Division of Returnees Support (Hikiage Engokyoku), which dealt with issues regarding returnees from abroad, war criminals, bereaved families, and injured veterans. In fact, staff in this division had been recruited from the former Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Navy. These bureaucrats, many of whom had participated in the administration of the shrine in prewar Japan, were eager to support the shrine, albeit unofficially. They even took the initiative to press Yasukuni priests to enshrine those who had been charged with Class B and C war crimes. In addition, after all war criminals had completed their sentences in Sugamo Prison in March 1959, the Ministry ofWelfare sent the shrine “deity enshrinement documents” (saijin meihyo) for deceased Class B and C war criminals. Yasukuni priests then covertly enshrined 346 Class B and Class C war criminals in April 1959.54

Bereaved families also increased their efforts to reinstate government sponsorship for the shrine. In March 1956, the Japan Bereaved Families Association created the Sub-Committee on Government Sponsorship of the Yasukuni Shrine (Yasukuni Jinja Kokkagoji ni kansuru Shoiinkaj). Between 1959 and I960, the association collected about three million signatures in support of government sponsorship for the shrine and lobbied six prefectural and 345 municipal councils to adopt resolutions endorsing renationalization of the shrine.55 Then, in September 1961, the association submitted petitions to speakers of both houses of the Diet, requesting them to promptly create a government commission to consider reinstating government sponsorship for the shrine.56

Through these lobbying activities, the association strengthened its connections with the government. To begin with, Takahashi Ryutaro (1953— 1961), a former minister in Yoshida’s government, became the first president of the association. Then, in March 1953, the association also obtained the right to use the government’s property, the building near the Yasukuni Shrine that had been reserved for professional soldiers in prewar Japan. The second president, Yasui Seiichiro (1961—1962), was an LDP member, and the third president, Kaya Okinori (1962—1977), another LDP member, had been prosecuted as a Class A war criminal but later became minister of justice in Ikeda Hayato’s government. Moreover, during Ikeda’s tenure as prime minister, the government resumed awarding decorations to veterans in April 1964 to “offer sincere thanks to those who sacrificed their precious lives for the country and honor their accomplishments.”57 Then, in August 1964, Ikeda’s government held the National Memorial Service inside the property of the Yasukuni Shrine. In the same year, the Association of Diet Members of Bereaved Families (Ikazoku Giin Kyokai) also adopted a resolution to demand renationalization of the shrine.58

While lobbying politicians with another campaign that accumulated more than six million signatures in 1964, the Japan Bereaved Families Association held its first liaison conference with the Yasukuni Shrine in January 1964, to coordinate their efforts to reinstate government sponsorship for the shrine.59 After the conference, Yasukuni priests submitted a petition for renationalization to the prime minister and speakers of both houses. Thus, from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s, the LDP and the Japan Bereaved Families Association combined their mobilizing structures to consolidate the LDP’s monopoly of the government and promote nationalism in Japan’s official commemoration by honoring Japanese soldiers without regard for the suffering of foreign victims.

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