Yasukuni Jinja Yūshūkan
Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture
The two main objectives of the Yūshūkan, founded in 1882 and
Japan's oldest museum, are to honor the war heroes of Japan who gave their
lives for their country and to make clear the truth about modern Japanese
military history . Yasukuni Jinja, founded as a Shinto shrine in 1869
for the worship of the divine spirits of those persons who sacrificed
themselves for their country, operates the Yūshūkan Museum. During World War
II, many members of suicide attack corps and other Japanese soldiers referred
to Yasukuni (meaning "peaceful country" in Japanese) as the place
where they would meet their families and fellow soldiers after their death in
battle. Yasukuni Jinja occupies a large plot of land in central Tōkyō and
has several buildings, including the main shrine and the Yūshūkan.
The Yūshūkan summarizes Japan's military history and
displays related items starting with the Meiji Restoration, the Satsuma
Rebellion, and the founding of the Yasukuni Jinja in the 1860s. The museum also
has a few exhibits related to the Samurai spirit and Japan's military
traditions prior to the 1860s. After the addition of a new building and a
complete renovation in 2002, the two-floor museum now has two large exhibition
halls, twenty exhibition galleries, two theaters, and two special exhibition
Yasukuni Jinja continues to be the center of controversy
between Japan and its Asian neighbors such as China and Korea. The shrine
serves as a symbol of Japanese colonialism and nationalism, and visits by
Japanese prime ministers to Yasukuni remind these Asian countries that Japan
has been slow to apologize for wartime atrocities and to publish school
textbooks that give a balanced history of the war. About 2.5 million spirits of
individuals who sacrificed themselves for Japan are worshipped at the shrine,
but the inclusion of convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tōjō causes the
The Yūshūkan honors all of Japan's war heroes, and only one
display case deals exclusively with the Special Attack Corps (tokkōtai), which carried out
suicide attacks in World War II. This case explains the history of the
formation of the first Special Attack Corps unit in the Philippines in October 1944.
Six exhibition galleries and the Great Exhibition Hall contain displays of some
photos, letters, or other items related to the Special Attack Corps.
The three thousand or so small photos displayed in three
exhibition galleries at the Yūshūkan include war dead from both the Imperial
Japanese Navy and Army, whereas other Japanese museums with displays about
special (suicide) attacks cover only Navy or Army operations. Each photo gives the
person's name, military branch (Navy or Army), rank, date and place of death,
and home prefecture. Unlike other museums with photos of Special Attack Corps pilots, the
Yūshūkan does not identify whether the person was part of the Special
Corps and does not give the person's age at death. The photos have no
particular order, but the museum has books in several places where one can
search for a person by alphabetical order of names or by home prefecture. The
photos include several women who died in the line of duty while supporting the
military. There is no explanation as to why certain photos are displayed out of
the total of 2.5 million persons who gave their lives in battle for Japan.
Although most people associate Japan's wartime suicide
attacks with planes, the Navy and Army had other Special Attack Corps units
suicide attacks. The museum has several exhibits about these other Special
Attack Corps units, such as motorboats with explosive charges. The Great Exhibition
Hall displays two weapons with explosive charges used in suicide attacks, an
ōka (manned glider with three rocket engines that fired for nine seconds each)
and a kaiten (manned torpedo) recovered by the U.S. Navy and on permanent loan
to the Yūshūkan. The museum also has a memorial to those who died in the
fukuryū Special Attack Corps. These were sailors wearing protective underwater
gear who were to be waiting in shallow water to destroy the enemy's landing
craft with explosives attached to the top of a bamboo pole. The Navy never
deployed this weapon, but many sailors lost their lives in unsuccessful trials
of this suicide attack weapon.
Yasukuni Jinja's museum presents a slanted view of Japan's military history,
with highlights of heroic moments but no mention of negative incidents such as
foreign comfort women and Unit 731 in Manchuria. The museum gives the
nationalist perspective of Japan's war history and tries to portray a military
history of which Japanese people should be proud. A theater has continuous
showings of a 50-minute film entitled "We Shall Not Forget," which gives the
Japanese nationalist perspective that Japan was not at fault in the Nanking
massacre in 1937 and that Japanese leaders were wrongly convicted at the Tōkyō
war crimes trials. The museum has an exhibit that portrays Japan as the key to
the liberation of other Asian countries from the U.S. and European powers
(Yasukuni Jinja 2003, 84).
Zero Carrier Fighter
The Yūshūkan Museum became a repository for original writings of some Special
Attack Corps members, since many bereaved families in the postwar period donated
writings and other items to this Shintō shrine where spirits of Japan's war dead
are enshrined and honored. Over 30 writings of Special Attack Corps members who
died in battle are on display, and about ten of these have English translations
shown with the exhibits, including writings by
Hajime Fujii, Naoji Iwasa,
Masahisa Uemura, and
Masafumi Yasuhara. Some of these
letters mention meeting their family members in the future at Yasukuni such as
the last letter of Sakae Miyauchi to his parents, "When you get the opportunity,
since I will be waiting for you at Yasukuni Shrine, please come to see me."
Before completion of the museum's expansion and renovation in 2002, the
Yūshūkan had very few English translations, but now the museum has extensive
English explanations of Japan's military history. The museum director says, "We
want more foreigners to visit so we can teach them about Japan's history and why
Japan fought" (Murphy 2002). One room has available for reading a book with 20
English translations of letters, diary entries, and other personal papers of
"Japan's War Heroes in Their Own Words," which includes items by eight Special
Attack Corps members. These 20 items, which come from books of letters published by Yasukuni Jinja, give
foreign visitors a flavor of the contents of the letters displayed at the
The large museum bookstore sells many books on Japan's military
history, including a few books on the Special Attack Corps, and a wide variety
of other books and souvenir items. Since 1995 through 2019, Yasukuni Shrine has
published 11 volumes in the series Eirei no koto no ha (Words of the
spirits of war dead), which include in each volume about 60 writings of persons
who died in Japan's wars through 1945 with about 18 percent on average of the
writings by Special Attack Corps members. An
average of one thousand people per day visit the museum (Murphy 2002), and
admission costs 1,000 yen.
Yasukuni Jinja's web site
has translated its Japanese content to English. In the past, the web site contained many
statements that reflected Yasukuni Jinja's mission to preach its nationalistic
view of Japanese military history, such as the following quote from the home
page, "Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by
history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia" (Yasukuni Jinja
2004). However, these more controversial beliefs seem to have been removed, and
the following sentence reflects how the web site now portrays the shrine's
purpose, "Yasukuni Jinja is a place for Japanese people to show their
appreciation and respect for those who died to protect their country, Japan, not
unlike similar facilities that foreign visitors may find in their home
countries" (Yasukuni Jinja 2020).
Date of most recent visit: August 31, 2019
1. From museum brochure in Japanese.
Murphy, Paul. 2002. Yasukuni Museum Tugs At
Heartstrings To Keep Military Memories Alive. Asahi Shimbun News Service.
August 25. <http://www.rense.com/general28/tudg.htm> (February 9, 2004).
Originally available at:
Yasukuni Jinja, ed. 1995-2019. Eirei
no koto no ha (Words of the spirits of war dead), Volumes 1-11.
Tōkyō: Yasukuni Jinja Shamusho.
________. 2003. Yasukuni Jinja Yūshūkan zuroku
(Yasukuni Jinja Yūshūkan in Pictures). Tōkyō: Yasukuni Jinja.
________. 2004. Yasukuni Jinja's Home
Page. <http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/> (July 8, 2004).
_______. 2020. "Worshipping." <http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/about/worshipping.html>
(March 19, 2020).