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Yasukuni Shrine

Listed under Temples in Tokyo, Japan.

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The Japanese leader caused a stir when he publicly paid his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which remembers Japanese warriors fallen in war, including several convicted second World War criminals. Seems like a complicated set of emotions and stories are tied up in this rather austere dark wood shrine.

Its un-ostentatious decorations make it more difficult to approach than some of the gaudier more festive shrines I've seen in Tokyo and I feel even less comfortable taking a photo – I'd hate to offend anyone – but there are a few older men who look about the same age as my Grandad who served in the Second World War and they're taking photos of themselves in front of it and one of them asks me to take a photo of all of them together so I feel gratefully, yet unofficially welcomed and after they pass by I take some photos of my own.

The shrine has a peaceful approach along a path lined with carved statues and after you go in though the main gate you're in a tree shaded courtyard.

Beside the shrine building is a kind of pale wood hall, modern, but built in the Shinto style, which old men, again of WW2 age – a Returned Soldiers Convention? - are filing into and around, smoking and laughing. It's difficult for me to feel any differently towards these old men than I would to old allied soldiers like my Grandad and his mates, but I wonder if I would feel differently if my Grandad had have been captured by the Japanese during the war and worked on the infamous Burma Railway – he was in the right field of battle, serving in Malaysia during the right period... But like the Japanese leader I think that as individuals these men probably for the most part fought for what they had to fight and die for just like all the other individuals who fight in wars. The reason I mention my musings is that this shrine has the kind of atmosphere that can easily make you fall into these kinds of musings.

Exiting the shrine to the left you come to the Yushukan, a war memorial museum, also built as a tribute to the war dead. It's 800Y to enter but in the free entrance hall is a Japanese Zero fighter plane built from the parts of several, mostly resurrected, rotting from the jungles of Yap island, and one of the engines that opened the Burma Railway in that famous ceremony on the bridge over the river Kwai.

In the photo you can't see inside the temple because of the white curtain with what I've decided to call the chrysanthemum pattern on it, but inside the shrine it's as dark wooded minimalist as its shell.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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