I have recently returned from a week long visit to my old stomping grounds in Tokyo. A sucker for historic sites and museums, I had the opportunity on this trip to visit the famous and extremely controversial museum attached to the Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni. Just like when I got to visit the National World World 2 Museum in New Orleans, I thought I would write up what I found and post a pile of pictures for anyone interested in Japanese armed forces during and around the 1930's and 1940's. Beneath my write up, I have included pictures of Japanese weapons, vehicles and gear with the accompanying name plates describing what is shown in the main pictures.
Without further ado, here is the shrine itself:
The shrine itself was built in 1869 to commemorate those who have died in the service of the Emperor. Eventually this came to mean soldiers and those who had died during armed conflicts in service of Japan, which even includes a few non-Japanese citizens. What makes this controversial is that of the deceased buried and memorialized there, there are over a thousand "Class A" war criminals from a variety of conflicts (mostly the Sino-Japanese War and World War 2). This makes the shrine's very existence a very sensitive issue with countries involved in those conflicts.
Attached to the shrine is a large museum that features countless artifacts from Japan's conflicts from its early history up until 1945. Though pictures are not allowed in a majority of the exhibits, I snapped this photo before I realised that it was banned. My mistaken photo demonstrates the kind of display that exists throughout the museum itself. Artifacts and attached detailed name plates describe the history of each piece and the Japanese side of conflicts from each period of history. These are accompanied by colourful charts, timelines and diagrams. The exhibit quality is very impressive.
You might have noticed that I said "From the Japanese perspective..." Well, if the museum has a failing it is this. It is VERY one sided in its portrayal of the conflicts that Japan has been involved in. For example, exhibits in the museum cite the US as responsible for Japans attack on Pearl Harbour and the extremely "questionable" Japanese soldier behaviour in China is either outright ignored or blamed on retaliation to Chinese trickery and violence. If you are even vaguely aware of Asian history during this era... The inaccuracies of some exhibits are glaring.
If you are in Tokyo and you are a history fan, I really DO recommend that you visit this museum. Its collections are fantastic (as you can see just a few of the features of their gallery collection photographed below) and the shrine itself is beautiful. That said, you have to go in with a broader historical perspective of what actually happened during these conflicts and you must possess the patience to overlook the often frustratingly one sided view presented in the museum.
Thank you for checking out this article. If you have feedback about what has been written here or if you have been to the Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni and would like to talk about your experiences. Please message Old Man Morin on the LRDG Podcast Facebook Page.