Uniform wearing nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Due to the controversy surrounding the enshrinement of 14 Class-A war criminals, Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine is rarely out of the news. And as such, the commonly named ‘war shrine’ is a constant source of tension between Japan and its neighbours, particularly when the Prime Minister opts to visit in an official capacity — fully aware of the anger it will cause.

Similarly, Yasukuni is also a focal point for Japan’s various nationalist organisations, especially so on politically sensitive, or culturally significant dates. Like yesterday, which was National Foundation Day.

A day that in many ways perfectly sums up the problems and contradictions of Yasukuni. In the morning, there was the regular flow of locals, tourists and veterans — all there to pay their respects or simply to take photographs and look around. Then shortly after lunch, a large number of uniform wearing nationalists were noisily bussed in. A group that once organised, marched in line up to the main shrine area.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Where they stood to attention.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Quietly observed the planned and carefully orchestrated ceremony.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Then did an about-face.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Moved flag bearers back up to the front.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

And then made a fairly speedy march back to the entrance.

Japanese nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine

Their exit once again leaving Yasukuni Shrine to the families and much less antagonistic visitors that it’s generally more accustomed to.

A Tokyo shrine in the snow

It doesn’t snow all that often in Tokyo. And very rarely as much as it did over the weekend. So when it does, there’s the inevitable chaos and complaining: train services deteriorate, people still attempt to cycle, plus millions of others shiver in uninsulated homes.

But some of the benefits — at least initially — are that it makes an ugly city almost pretty. And pretty things quite beautiful.


The terrible sadness of Jizo statues and toys

Jizo are common sights in Tokyo — not to mention the whole of Japan. Little figures stood solemnly by the roadside. Or more often than not, in and around temples. Statues that along with watching out for youngsters and travellers, are far better known as the protectors of deceased children, including miscarried or stillborn infants. The belief being that Jizo hides them in his robes and then guides them safely to salvation.

However, invariably kitted out in red bibs and wooly hats, it’s easy to forget this sad reality behind the countless statues. Even more so the many people who dutifully go and pay respects to them. And yet at other times, it’s quite clearly, and very uncomfortably, the opposite.

Japanese Jizo