Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Road to Yasukuni: What Does The Latest Yomiuri Poll Mean?

The latest Yomiuri poll, taken on August 15 and 16, shows 53% supported Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni while 39% opposed it. This is a big turnaround from the August 5-6 Yomiuri poll, when 49% opposed the visit while only 43% supported it. Although the two results are not strictly comparable (15-16 poll: phone; 5-6 poll: interview), it does indicate that people’s respect for Koizumi’s stubbornness is still there. Moreover, a similar turnaround from opposition to troops in Iraq to opposition to pullout after Japanese hostage murders indicates that this rally-round-the-flag phenomenon is not solely dependent on personal charisma. These are food for thought on the part of the up-close-likeable Mr. Abe, whose political instincts are far more conciliatory than Mr. Koizumi’s.


But the poll also shows that only 25% support Yasukuni as is, while 65% support some form of change that does not bode well for the class A war criminals (new secular, national memorial facility 30%; Yasukuni sans cAwcs 19%; Chidorigadafuchi Cemetery expansion 11%; secularized and nationalized Yasukuni 5%). When all is said and done, we are ready for change, but under our own terms.


What does this mean for our neighbors, the Chinese and Koreans? I think they should be willing to give Mr. Abe the benefit of the doubt, and let him work things out on his own terms. If he decides he wants to keep his actions under wraps (like then Prime Minister Miyazawa), le him do so. Japan is not going to take back Takeshima (or Dokto, for you Koreans out there) by force any time soon (psst, anybody want to go the Hague with us? Rule of law? … I thought so), nor is the JDA going to come out in force to knock out the Chinese drilling rig at the Shirakaba (Chunxiao for you Chinese) gas field. So play it cool and see if he has figured out a way to finesse the issue. And wait till the politics are ripe for a later administration, LDP, coalition, or otherwise to come to a more permanent resolution.


Speaking of politics, the Blue House spokesman came out and said that separating cAwcs from Yasukuni would not be enough; that as long as the Yushukan remained what it is, the history issue would not go away and thus visits to Yasukuni would not be acceptable to Korea. It is easy to dismiss this as a desperate ploy from a discredited and besieged administration with less wiggle room than their Chinese counterparts to begin with. But they do deserve a hearing; after all, China and Korea to Japan was not what Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, including yes, China and Korea, were to the West. We have our own issues with history, and Yasukuni is as good a place as any to begin.


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