You should put a visit to Yasukuni near the top of your list of things to do in Tokyo, much more than the nicely situated but somewhat bland Meiji Shrine. Notoriously known in the West as the “War Shrine”, Yasukuni is where (some) Japanese believe the souls of those who had died defending the country rest, Of course, most countries have a Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and, like in Japan, Ministers and other high ranking politicians go to pay respects. Unfortunately, in the late 1970s, the organisation running the shrine (which, unsurprisingly, falls on the far right of the spectrum of Japanese politics) also arranged for the political and military leaders who had planned and instigated WW2 to be honoured, ensuring diplomatic rows and a longstanding political issue for decades to come. Official visits to the shrine remain an emotive and divisive issue in the country, and though some governments tried to make a separate monument for the fallen, these plans went nowhere.
The shrine is pretty much just another shrine, but it’s important to pay a visit to the museum inside the grounds. This museum basically exists to propagate the right wing version of Japanese history, from modernisation through WW2. While this point of view is usually met with snorts of derision in the West, there was a context here – European imperialism, racism, unfair trade treaties, etc. It’s a pretty safe bet that most of Asia would still be ruled by Europeans had Japan not kicked them out. That is not to say that Japanese abuses during the war (towards others and also its own people) should be justified, but that the situation was much more complex than the usual “white hats and black hats” version that most Western people seem to be spoon-fed.
There is a gift shop selling the usual variety of trinkets, though much of the items will not be too interesting if you aren’t fluent in Japanese (for example, there is a good selection of right leaning literature). If it flicks your switch, there are also a lot of books and DVDs on military matters, ranging from WW2 documentaries to promotional stuff for the Japanese air force (though all of this is also in Japanese). There is also a café, though I would highly recommend giving this a pass – it is substandard and overpriced, and basically preys on the elderly Japanese tour groups that visit the shrine in busloads. Don’t be fooled by the “Imperial Navy Curry”, which is an utter rip off.
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