Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Japan's other war shrine: Koa Kannon temple

HONORING THE DEAD The ashes of seven war criminals are buried at the temple, but it also honors Chinese soldiers who died during the Japanese invasion and occupation

AFP , ATAMI, JAPAN

Nun Myojo Itami introduces a monument to the seven war criminals at the Koa Kannon temple in Atami, about 90km southwest of Tokyo, in this photo from June. The ashes of the top war criminals were buried on the temple grounds, among other sites in Japan, after they were hanged in December 1948.

PHOTO: AFP

As tensions rise in Asia over a Tokyo shrine honoring war dead, actual remains of Japan's top war criminals lie here at a quiet temple dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

On a wooden hillside overlooking Atami Bay, some 90km southwest of Tokyo, a statue of the goddess, Kannon, stands with half-closed eyes which, the nuns say, are gazing toward China.

Ashes of seven top war criminals including General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, were buried on the temple grounds among other individual sites in Japan after they were hanged in December 1948 by order of a US-led tribunal.

Flanked by two stone lions and Japanese flags, the temple in 1959 set up a marker to the "seven warriors." A nearby monument honors 1,068 Japanese who were executed as war criminals or died in prison elsewhere in Asia after Japan lost the war and its empire.

But today the Koa Kannon temple is deserted save for two elderly nuns, the Itami sisters, who live here permanently and welcome the rare visitors.

"Around 80 people come here each month. They are people of all backgrounds. Some of them are passionate about history and there are young people as well," said the elder sister, Myotoku Itami, 63, a petite, smiling woman with a shaved head and a somber robe.

It is a world away from the scene at the Yasukuni Shrine, which was built in the heart of Tokyo by the state in 1869 and now lists the names of 2.5 million war dead including top war criminals such as Tojo.

The Yasukuni Shrine has become a rallying ground for war veterans and nationalists. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited the Shinto site every year, saying he is praying for all war dead, provoking furious protests from Asian nations invaded by Japan.

Koizumi, who steps down next month, has sent signals he will visit tomorrow, the sensitive anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender, despite rising domestic opposition.

At Koa Kannon, in another era, commandos of the now defunct far-left Japanese Red Army in 1971 partly dynamited the monument to the seven war criminals. A black stain still remains on the stone marker.

The Japanese traditionally hold Buddhist funeral rites, although the indigenous Shinto faith was elevated to the state religion during World War II.

General Iwane Matsui -- another of the seven war criminals whose ashes were deposited here -- built the Koa Kannon temple in 1940 and would pray here every day.

Supporters of the temple point out proudly that Matsui built it in honor not only of Japanese soldiers but also Chinese troops who died in war during Japan's invasions and occupation of its neighbor.

"It is natural for victors to venerate the souls of the dead. Whether one wins or loses, one must stop hatred from perpetuating or else war will never end," said veteran Tasaburo Tokutomi, 80, president of the Association of Friends of Koa Kannon.

Matsui was hanged for his campaign in China which included the 1937 capture of the eastern city of Nanjing, where Japanese troops went on a rampage of murder and rape of the civilian population.

The massacre, which remains an issue of deep anger for China, left 300,000 people dead, according to Chinese historians. US-led war crimes trials documented 140,000 dead.

A black lacquer box at the temple keeps enclosed the written names of 23,104 Japanese soldiers who died under Matsui's leadership.

This story has been viewed 4916 times.
TOP top