On June 6, a musical ensemble composed of 20 members from the Bavarian village of Bernhardswald, visiting Hokkaido for a music festival, took part as guests at the Hokkaido Gokoku shrine in Asahikawa. To the "Alte Kameraden" (old allies) who gave their lives in the two world wars, the band performed a medley of traditional music.
The Hokkaido Gokoku shrine, like others of its type around the country, is closely affiliated with Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. It may even be considered a branch thereof, engaging in similar activities. It also follows the same general historical viewpoints as Yasukuni, in that it holds Japan as largely blameless for colonial expansion and wartime acts of military aggression.
A Japanese woman, Fumiko Grundstein [phonetic], widow of Bernhardswald's late bandleader Jurgen Grundstein, reportedly arranged for the band's visit to the shrine in Hokkaido.
Writing in Shukan Kinyobi (Aug 7), photojournalist Tsukasa Yajima looks at the past and present ties between Germany and Yasukuni. Few Germans, he supposes, are aware of exchanges that have taken place between their country and Yasukuni even after the war.
In 1965, for example, a delegation from the then-West German navy visited the shrine, which presented the visitors with a ginko tree sapling, which they carried back to Germany and planted at the Laboe Naval Memorial near the city of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein.
Five years later, in 1970, Chief of Staff of the West German Air Force Johannes Steinhoff -- a former fighter ace in the Luftwaffe during World War II -- visited Yasukuni and brought with him the gift of an oak sapling, which was planted on the shrine grounds.
In April 2010, Bundestag legislator Paul Schafer, deputy for the left-leaning party Die Linkspartei, went on record as saying Germany should consider retracting its gift to Yasukuni of the oak tree and memorial, but the government replied that Steinhoff's gift was "not problematic" as it had been presented to the shrine "prior to the enshrinement of the class A war criminals" -- which took place in October 1978.
Environmentalist Sylvia Kotting-Uhl of Germany's Green party, a member of the German-Japan Parliamentarians' League, was quoted as saying, "Memorials to fallen soldiers can be found all over Germany, and they must be debated. We must remember for what reason, and for whose sake, they gave up their lives. It is more important to consider this than the nation's stated purpose for memorializing them."
Kotting-Uhl also remarked, "Yasukuni is a facility that is symbolic of militarism, and using the power of the state as a shield and without any debate between victims and perpetrators, proceeded with enshrinement on its own arbitrary terms. Awareness of this needs to be disseminated in Germany as well. That no one questioned the exchange of the trees raises the point that after the war, the German federal government has continued to maintain contacts with Yasukuni."
Beyond the east Asian countries that have been most vociferous about the Yasukuni issue, Yajima believes historical matters are now gradually being scrutinized by Germany and other nations of Europe involved with the conflict. And this can't be a bad thing: Yajima senses that in the future, it will be the Europeans' examination of Yasukuni that will expose the motives of the advocates of so-called "Nipponism," who continue to conceal historical truths while making the justification that their sole purpose is to pray for repose of war victims.© Japan Today