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In September 2016 I visited the Yasukuni Shrine, located in a pleasant Tokyo neighbourhood. Had I been a Japanese politician, this would have caused a commotion in some parts of the world.
The shrine was established in 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration that is usually considered the foundation of the modern Japanese state. It is surrounded by a park where vendors of military memorabilia and various antiques often display their wares. Other people stroll through the park, walk their dogs or enjoy various kinds of exercise, as they do in most parks throughout the world.
Shinto, the traditional – although no longer the official – religion of Japan, is largely based on reverence for ancestors. Shinto shrines are found throughout the country, and Yasukuni is by no means the oldest of them, but it is probably the most famous. It would not be stretching a point very much to say that Yasukuni is to Japan what Westminster Abbey is to England, a place of worship but also a place to remember the honoured dead who served their country. The Yasukuni Shrine contains the ashes, and is dedicated to the memory, of almost two and a half million Japanese who died and were killed in military service between 1868 and 1945. They include not only human warriors but some of the dogs and horses employed by the Imperial Japanese Army, an idea that I find rather touching.
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