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.


  1. says

    Great photos man. I used to live at the corner of 桜田通り and 外苑東通り in the vicinity of the Russian Embassy, and WOW were my ears blown out that first Saturday morning after I moved in. The leasing agent forgot to let me know about the weekly (sometimes more) protests right outside my 2nd floor window…

    Anyway, good photos. Brings back some very noisy memories!

    • says

      Thanks a lot!

      Blimey, I can only imagine what that was like. There’s noisy, and then there’s uyoku noisy…

  2. Martin says

    Good set of photos. It’s interesting how guys like these (and it’s pretty much always guys) look the same all over the world. Of course in the US they would all be heavily armed lol.

    • says


      There’s always that to be thankful for, but yeah, there does seem to be a particular ‘type’, doesn’t there? Pretty much the same in the UK too.

    • says

      Not surprisingly really. What with Abe in charge. The new secrecy bill. A pro-government man in charge of NHK. Not to mention a very real threat to the pacifist constitution. And all in all it doesn’t look good, does it?

  3. says

    Great photos, just cannot stand looking at them them because of the nationalists who have caused so much pain and distress to Japan and large parts of the world.
    I do also see signs of nationalism at other Shinto shrines so I prefer to stay away from them and only visit temples :-)

    • says


      I know what you mean. I’m just as appalled by what they represent — both in the past and in a potentially horrendous future — and yet at the same time I’m oddly fascinated by them. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? And what on earth led them to be marching into Yasukuni in military gear?

      Wouldn’t be the most comfortable of interviews, but I’d love to sit down with one of them at some point and try and get some answers.

  4. Willy says

    This thing has come up in some of my acquaintances. .they have a rational for it.. like religious fundamentalists.. there is no changing there minds. Shitty stuff.. maybe even a kind of slow-mo natural disaster. I dunno. wish it would go away. But from my experience, Japan is better than all that rubbish. Still love the place despite the occasional wart.

    • says

      It is. And of course they are a small minority. But with the noise they make, it’s easy to get alarmed by them. Or at the very least overestimate the capabilities.

      That said, with Abe in power, and the likes of Hashimoto and Ishihara having proved popular with the electorate, there’s still a worrying number of people who have have somewhat similar views.

    • says

      To be fair to them, it is a religious/solemn ceremony, so smiles would be out of place. Not that they gave me many smiles as I passed them on the way out when they were getting ready to leave!

      • GenjiG says

        You have a point, but something tells me their lives are not about a lot of smiles anyway. Especially not for gaijin…

        • says

          Yeah, hard to imagine how that kind of anger makes any kind of life possible. Apart, of course, from an unhappy one…

    • says

      Angry no doubt at the way they perceive their country to have pandered to the likes of democracy, peace and other such left-wing vices.

    • says

      They are there for a Shinto ceremony. The same far right group are there every year actually, as are other similarly extremist organisations/individuals. Quite what the ceremony is about I don’t know. One of them had a prepared speech/prayer that he read out in front of the shrine, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.

      Yasukuni Shrine is a focal point for right-wing groups, and on certain days throughout the year, huge numbers of them congregate there – National Foundation Day (Feb 11) being one of them. Not only is it a celebration of the foundation of Japan, but it was also once called Empire Day, and designed to unify the country and focus attention on the emperor. A harking back to the past and the Emperor that those photographed seem to long after.

  5. John says

    What a bunch of losers. With the sour look on their face they look like the guys from Exile.

  6. Jeffrey says


    Hazard a guess of how many are yakuza? Those who are ethnic Korean may not be too inclined to this, and I don’t remember if Jake Adelstein commented on this in “Tokyo Vice” and I have yet to read Whiting’s book on the same subject.

    • says

      I was wondering that very same thing when I was there. Only guessing of course, but I reckon it could be none of them. Or if some of them are, they’d be very low down in the ranks. They just seemed too much of a ragtag outfit to be Yakuza.

      The small group of suited men watching over them and very much in charge, on the other hand, could well be…

  7. says

    I just showed your photos to my Japanese wife, she finds you very brave for having taken these photos; frankly, she is right and I wouldn’t have dared. A friend of mine visited Yasukuni during one of the nationalist parades by accident and his Japanese wife told me that she had was scared by the strange atmosphere around her NJ husband.
    My wife pointed out this your photo series actually changed her image of Yasukuni. She never really understood what the big deal was with Yasukuni and politicians visiting as it was about honouring the war dead from past centuries. She read up on Japanese books available abroad and she knows that the schoolbooks she was taught from are largely glossing over large parts of history and she realizes that pretending things didn’t happen doesn’t make it a fact. The “Lalalalala, I cannot hear you” is easily disproved if you want to listen. Anyway, back to your photos: my wife knew that there were right wing people parading there, but never realized that they were getting blessings from the priests. Bit of a shock to her as like so many Japanese, she doesn’t like the nationalists at all. Unfortunately, the prime minister is one of them.
    She pointed out the some of them are wearing the Imperial Seal on their backs. I have the feeling if the Japanese emperor was allowed to speak up, he would puke over these people.

    • says

      Interesting. Thanks a lot for letting me know. Really good to hear that the photos made her think. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

      To be honest, I wanted to get nearer, but with a 35mm lens, that’s as close as I felt I could get without causing potential problems. As it was also a ceremony of some kind, I didn’t want to be totally disrespectful either, regardless of their odious views.

      Yeah, the Emperor has hinted at some quite liberal views. Revere him they might, but like you say, he wouldn’t want anything to do with them. Let alone them acting in his name.

  8. Squidpuppy says

    Weird uniforms. I prefer the guys in WW2 Imperial Japanese Army garb – just as a point of aesthetics. Also, these guys have rather poor esprit de corps – very sloppy. They remind me of neo-nazis and skinheads, which makes sense. I was surprised to see a temple priest blessing their flag, but I guess a substantial donation goes a long way.

    Is there any suggestion that some of them are simply rounded up off the streets, given the uniform, and paid for their presence?

    • says

      Yeah, I know what you mean. All very sloppy. They’ve sort of made the effort, and yet at the same time, haven’t.

      No, not at all. They all arrive in a huge convoy of speaker-equipped and chrysanthemum-emblazoned vehicles. A mix of coaches, cars and jeeps. Quite a spectacle really. Also, I recognise some of the faces from precious years.

      • Squidpuppy says

        These are great shots, because one can clearly read something of the individual temperament and thinking in the faces of these fellows, and in their dress, etc. That’s something far more difficult to do in a properly disciplined cohort, like real troops on parade. It’s very telling: this lot, while serious, is clueless in a lot of respects. One can see the same things in photos of SA “stormtroopers” in the early ’30s in Germany.

        Two guys I really like: the one wearing a cold mask, and the kid with yellow hair LOL

        • says


          That’s a very good point. It would be interesting to sit down with some of them and see how much they are actually aware of, or know to be factually correct. I’d also like to know what actually led them from merely having a tendency for such views, to joining a group and attending such events.

  9. Frank says

    I don’t know what the lads hope to achieve. They can’t even iron their own uniforms.

  10. says

    When I visited Yasukuni for the first time I was surprised how unassuming it felt. I also felt a lot better about the shrine once I realized it’s a shrine to all the soldiers who fought to defend Japan throughout history.

    • says

      That’s were it all gets very tricky. Despite all the controversy and the war criminals, it is a place to remember those who died for their country.

  11. Brett says

    No snow then this year? The last lot looked quite emotive and sad with the snow. This lot just look pissed off.

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