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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Visit to Yasukuni Shrine and the Film 'Annoyng Sayonara'

Now it is the holiday time and things are quieter, I would like to look back on some of my activities this year that I have not had a chance to write about yet.

One was my visit to Yasukuni Shrine on August 15th, on the morning when then Prime Minister Koizumi paid a visit to the controversial shrine on the 61st anniversary of Japan's defeat in the WWII. Mr. Koizumi had pledged to visit the shrine on August 15th and finally went ahead with the plan at the end of his 5-year service as Prime Minister. I took this first picture in the huge crowd of people who gathered to witness Mr. Koizumi's visit. Unlike myself who was not necessarily there to support the visit, most of the people around me were cheering and applauding when Mr. Koizumi appeared in front of the main shrine. The people who gathered there seemed to be mostly men in their 20s to 50s. There were very few women. I was then naively expecting that there would be some protesting there, but I saw or heard none. The scene was all one of approval and praise.

The purpose of my visit that morning was not as much to see Mr. Koizumi at the shrine as to feel the whole atmosphere and witness what would actually be going on on the shrine premises at the time of the visit. There were security helicopters, hundreds of police officers and riot police members, media trucks and journalists. Those were all expected, but what I found shocking was the presence of so many right-winger trucks and people who were waving banners with ultranationalistic and hate-filled propaganda, like the one that called the 'comfort women' issue as fabricated. The banner on the picture on the right says 'Japanese, gather under the hinomaru (the Japanese national flag) for solidarity in the name of the Emperor!'

What I also noticed were the signs put up by the shrine at several locations throughout the premises. According to this sign, the shrine bans the distribution of flyers, demonstrative and organizational activities with flags and banners. There were clearly double standards - only the political activities and banners that were acceptable to the Shrine were allowed. I later learnt that Yasukuni would not allow any protestor activities on or outside the shrine, and they would use force to drive them out if any approached. During Mr. Koizumi's visit, the protestors were all elsewhere, in places like Ginza, demonstrating against the Prime Minister's visit to the shrine that was harshly criticized by China and Korea as the shrine glorified the war of invasion by Japan and regarded the war-dead, including war criminals, as eirei, or heroic souls.

The day before this visit, I went to see the film 'Annyong Sayonara,' co-directed by young Korean and Japanese filmmakers Kim Tae-iI and Kumiko Kato. Yasukuni Shrine was the central issue of the film, and there was a scene where a female protestor was hit by a man who seemed to be a security guard at the shrine. It was the first time in a long time that I actually saw a man hitting a woman even on a screen, so I was quite scared. This is why for my own safety, I remained silent and observant the whole time I was at the shrine the next morning.

The film Annyong Sayonara taught me many aspects of the Yasukuni issue that I didn't know before, and also gave me hope that young generations of Koreans and Japanese citizens are working together to learn from the past and co-create the future with open and honest mind. Annyong (hello) to the bright future, and Sayonara (goodbye) to the tragic past - this is the message of the film. Kumiko Kato, the Japanese director of the film who gave a talk at the Tama screening said that the biggest challenge in the production was intercultural communication between her and Kim Tae-il, the Korean director. I appreciated her candor that there were many obstables to overcome in the joint project, and I am just so proud of the cross-cultural team effort that resulted in such a thought-provoking and inspiring film. I am going to bring this film to Vancouver early next year for public screening. For your information, the link to the film website is:

With love and wishes for your holidays,

Satoko Norimatsu

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