[Tokyo] – Earlier this week a group of 168 Japanese lawmakers made their annual visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine. Visits to the shine, a symbol of Japan’s imperialist past, regularly leads to increased tensions between Japan and many of its East Asian neighbors.
In a poll, we asked the 168 lawmakers about their motifs for visiting the visit. The results show that there is more to this shrine than blatant Japanese nationalism.
The most popular motif seems to be the free advertisement that a visit to Yasukuni shrine brings with it. A stunning 38% of the polled answered that they regard the visit as “a change to get my face on television and on the front page of newspapers”. Another popular motif is the will to gain votes from right-wing nationalists (17%). Right-wing nationalists, which represent a large part of the Japanese electorate are widely regarded as easy to impress by actions that “annoy China and South Korea yet do not require any political skill”, to use the words of one lawmaker.
This leads us to the second most popular motif. About 21% of lawmakers stated that they feel a certain urge to “piss of people”, with an additional 6% explaining that it is part of the Japanese culture to piss people off. The opinion that it is in Japan’s best interest not to get along too well with its neighbors was selected by 15% of the polled. “In times of economic crisis, it’s always good to do something that negatively affects the public opinion among your main trading partners”, explained one lawmaker, adding that “this is what Abenomics is all about”.
Several of the lawmakers already expressed surprise and amazement about the negative reactions their visit would cause the next day, one day in advance. One lawmaker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he is amazed how a visit to Yasukuni shrine can lead to such negative reactions. “I don’t think anyone would care if 168 German lawmakers would go pray in front of Hitler’s grave. Why is it always only Japan that gets criticized?” he added.