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Abë at Yasukuni

According to the 28 September issue of Jinja Shinpō, Abë Shinzō, the former prime minister of Japan, visited Yasukuni Jinja on September 19th. This does not seem to have raised the same amount of international controversy as his previous visit, on December 26th 2013, possibly because he was not prime minister this time, having formally resigned on September 16th. It did still make the front page of Jinja Shinpō, however.

I am raising it here, because I think this visit is evidence in favour of my interpretation of his previous visit. Note that there is no political reason for Abë to visit Yasukuni Jinja now — it will please right-wingers, but he has resigned as Prime Minister and seems to have no intention of aiming for the job again. He says that he visited to report his resignation to the “eirei”, the war dead, and there is no reason to doubt that. It seems that he really does have a personal desire to pay his respects at Yasukuni, independent of politics.

As I observed in my post about his last visit, the structure of that visit seemed to be designed to minimise controversy, but that failed, and it was enormously controversial. It is, I think, now beyond doubt that he was deliberately avoiding visiting Yasukuni Jinja while he was prime minister in order to avoid causing more trouble, and not because he did not want to visit.

That, in turn, strongly suggests that he genuinely did not want to cause controversy with his first visit. It is true that anyone with a passing knowledge of the situation could have told him how controversial it would be, but motivated reasoning is very powerful — if he really wanted to go, he could convince himself that, by also paying his respects to the people killed by the Japanese and swearing to them that Japan would never go to war again, he would avoid the standard criticism. When faced with incontrovertible evidence that he could not avoid controversy, he stopped visiting the jinja — for pretty much exactly as long as he was still prime minister.

Thus, I think that there is extremely good reason to believe that Abë’s visit to Yasukuni as prime minister was a miscalculation arising from deeply held personal convictions, rather than an attempt to be provocative or to appeal to his base. Given that he did avoid war for his entire term as prime minister, it seems reasonable to conclude that his vow to do so was also sincere.

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