Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yasukuni Shrine & Home Again

In the morning, we raced out for one last sightseeing adventure before our Friendly Airport Limousine arrived. Where to go? I took dad to the Yasukuni Shrine, adjacent to the Imperial Palace grounds. I feel it is important to point out something dealing with Yasukuni here, before I continue. Yasukuni isn't exactly Tokyo Disney. Nor is it just another shrine. In Japan, it's considered among the most holy of shrines, dating back hundreds of years as the destination of warrior spirits. Shogun, samurai, soldiers, kamikaze alike.

This is where the difficulties start.. in that several neighboring countries who were so busy trying to neuter Japan at the end of World War II (known at Yasukuni as the Great Pacific War), decided that a place like Yasukuni isn't so nice for their own memories. Fortunately Japan didn't demolish Yasukuni, although over the years did bend to pressure from places like Korea and China. Prime Ministers then suspended their annual trips to pay tribute to Japan's fallen warriors and politically, Yasukuni became a bit of a pariah destination. Those countries were (and are) quite vocal in feeling that Prime Minister visitation trips imply Japanese tacit approval of atrocities and aggression at the hands of leaders past.

My personal opinion. Every country out there- the US, China and Korea included- have been the instigator on one level or another, in one conflict or another. To insist that one country ignores it's history is sheer ignorance. To go further and again insist that it's leaders ignore ancestors, or not show tribute to it's warriors past isn't something I agree with at all- as a proud Marine or otherwise. Warriors are an ingrained part of a countries past and present, positioned to guarantee a future. Good or bad. In countries like the US and Japan, military members almost to an individual wear the uniform not because of a hidden agenda, but because they truly believe. Many pay for that belief with their own lives. So why take that away from them? I see it as the equivalent of foreign powers at some unseen day down the road insisting that the US ignore Arlington National Cemetery and what it represents. Not going to happen.

A recent Prime Minister (Junichiro Koizumi) bucked the trend and did visit Yasukuni each year. When he did, I applauded his decision. If I recall correctly, so did most of his country. People need to have national pride, and need to be mindful of their past.

Walking inside the adjacent museum, I was pleased to see that curators have begun to paint a more accurate- or at least contemporary view- of Japanese history which was definitely more skewed a few years back. Actually, to say "more skewed" is a blatant understatement. Regardless, I am pleased that Japan has this shrine and appreciate it's importance on Japan's people. The other thing that I am pleased to note is that artifacts are lovingly maintained. Any time you see an 800 year old Samurai katana sword that is so well cared for it might be mistaken for something crafted yesterday is highly impressive. The place is literally chock full of Japanese war artifacts from years past and they are all in amazing condition.

One of my favorite items is a battle standard from the 321st Infantry Regiment, still completely intact and now prominently displayed. In WW II, the Emporer issued an order to his forces upon unconditional surrender- destroy your standards, or face the wrath. Any Marine could tell you how much of a defeating morale killer this would bring to a unit- heck, even today I dragged one of my unit guidons to the top of Everest as a showing of unit pride. Then as a person who -sort of- understands the Japanese (it would take a westerner about 1,000 years to truly understand), I am surprised that one or two units out there actually defied an order and kept their standard. The story behind this one is particularly compelling when you read about how many individuals in the unit went to such great lengths to hide their plot and ultimately saved it from being burned. I think my units would do the exact same thing, so it's a great example of soldiers being proud soldiers no matter what unit, nationality or culture.

There is a large atrium at the end of the museum where you can see larger items, including kamikaze Baka Bomb, mini submarines, and Zeros. It's definitely a weird feeling, but still highly interesting and worthwhile to see a different side to a war that affected so many people across the world.

At Tokyo Narita, we dropped off bags, grabbed some udon for lunch, and did some last minute shopping.

And then we were off. Slipping quickly and smoothly skyward, I had a strange feeling.. this trip is almost over. How odd. It has been almost three months to the day since I left, and several times through the flight I recalled the stress, hectic packing, and checklists that basically were my last two days of life in Seattle before leaving. How dramatically different from now.

Streaking across the Pacific, I barely had time to watch "Fools Gold" for the fourth time before Flight Attendants were on an intercom announcing our upcoming landing. When we looked out the window crossing the Olympic Peninsula, dad had the chance to see the Olympic Range. His college fraternity nickname was "The Gods" and their symbol was Mt Olympus, which is a mountain that I led a team of five on for a 30 hour speed ascent. So I had already sent dad images of this remote and rugged peak deep inside Olympic National Park, but this was the first time that he had a chance to have it pointed out while so close. It must have been great to lay eyes on an object that had that sort of meaning for so long.

And then there we were. Back in Seattle. Almost as cold as when I left in March, definitely as grey as when I left. It has been fantastic to catch up with friends, eat real Seattle food, be back in my place. Sure, it's covered in a thin film of dust and feels like I just entered a time capsule. But truly, surely, good to be home.

Or is it. In the ~96 hours since I have returned, I have been stared down by some drunk guido Cubano guy who wanted to fight (ooh, scary man) and landed a $124 moving violation on Henry's motor scooter for making an illegal right hand turn from some asshole cop with an attitude. Where do you think the City of Seattle came up with $124 as the penalty, anyway? Sort of an arbitrary number.

Welcome home! Yeesh. Time for another trip..

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