Friday, October 19, 2018

Lost in the Well of Souls

by Anastasia (writer), London, May 31, 2011

Credit: Odoru Haniwa
Japanese Ultra-Right Nationalists at Yasukuni

This is one of the more unusual legal cases you are ever likely to read about. It concerns a man trying to regain his soul.

In Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg and the heart of old Prussia, there is a shrine, sacred to the memory of all those who fell for the fatherland. It’s the final refuge for their spirits, their souls. It’s also a celebration of militarism, a celebration of German martial achievements, without qualification. Among the millions of names you will even find those of Hitler, Goring and all those hanged at Nuremberg. Outside, in the main grounds, the guard marches up and down, dressed in Second World War uniform, including the old-fashioned coal scuttle helmet. Yes, they are there, goose-stepping up and down, a comfort to Germany’s nationalist right.

This is outrageous, don’t you agree, how could such a thing be allowed in the heart of the new Europe? It’s simply not possible. Forgive me; I’ve been misleading you; there is no such shrine, which would indeed be an outrage to the memory of all those who suffered and died last century at the hands of the Nazis. But the thing is there truly is such a place or something very like, though it’s not in Germany – it’s in Japan.

On August 6 every year the Japanese gather at Hiroshima to bewail their fate as victims. On every other day they can go to the Yasukuni Shrine, situated in the Chiyoda district of the capital, to celebrate the spirit of men who carried aggressive warfare across Asia, including former Prime Minister Tojo and all those hanged after the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. And the guard does march up and down under the flag of the Rising Sun.

Though never particularly generous in life to those who served with them – by force – the Japanese are generous in death; for the souls who have been ‘annexed’ include those of 21,000 Taiwanese and 28,000 Koreans, once colonial subjects of the Japanese Empire. They are there in this militarist Shinto paradise whether they like it or not.

Kim Hee Jong, of Korean nationality, does not like it. Kim Hee Jong hates it so much that he began a court action in Tokyo to reclaim his soul. What? But how can the dead possibly do such a thing? The thing is he’s not dead, though he was mistakenly reported missing in action during the war. In 2006 he found out to his shame that his name was enrolled at Yasukuni;

I was so angry that I wanted to set fire to the shrine. The war deprived me of a chance to receive an education. That shrine means nothing to me.

Rather than set fire to the shrine he launched one of most unusual legal battles in history, a battle over the ownership of his own soul. He joined with a number of plaintiffs in a class action, though his case is unique in that the others are the children of the dead. In resisting the custodians claimed that once a soul has been enshrined it cannot be extracted, anymore than a drop of water can be removed from a pool.

Mr Kim enjoys the singular distinction of a man whose soul has effectively been stolen and placed, so far as he is concerned, in a kind of hell. Sadly for him it is destined to remain there, in the well of souls. The court case, which opened last November, was recently decided in favour of Yasukuni authorities.

About the Writer

Anastasia is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on Lost in the Well of Souls

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By Credo on June 01, 2011 at 11:33 am

The fundamental legal and political aspects of this case goes unprecedented. To have to fight the system to protect ones own name and the soul of ones person is a staggering concept. Never have I heard of something like this, although after experiencing so many oddities with life and in researching history I have no dough about its validity. I can't understand why they wouldn't simply void his name from the roster, the solution seems simple.

Interesting information, a curiosity provoking article.


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By Anastasia on June 01, 2011 at 07:02 pm

Yes, it is amazing...and rather sad. Thanks both. :-)

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