Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Letters:

Shinto's legacy

In Japan, Shinto (Way of the Gods) was elevated to the status of state religion, in which the emperor is worshipped as a god, in 1868.

In 1941 the emperor, Hirohito, gave the order to attack the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Every Japanese who is a follower of the Shinto religion profoundly believes that this order of the emperor was right for the simple reason that gods cannot go wrong. In 1945, after Japan had lost the war, Shinto lost its rank as a state religion. In 1946, emperor Hirohito renounced all claims to divinity under heavy US pressure.

Although this remains the formal situation, it does not mean that the special relationship between the emperor and the Japanese people has basically changed. Deep in their hearts the Japanese are still Shinto followers.

This situation explains the ambivalent behavior of the Japanese people vis-a-vis their responsibility for the atrocities committed by them during World War II. The Germans did not have this problem because they never considered Hitler as a god. Old wounds were opened again after the recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to the Yasukuni War Shrine where Japanese war criminals are buried.

There were fierce reactions to this visit, particularly in China, Korea and the Philippines. It looks as though relations between Japan and these three countries will never be normalized unless the problem of informal emperor worship is completely eliminated.

FRANS SOEDE

Phuket, Thailand

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