The Commemoration of the War Dead in Modern Japan

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Abstract

This article begins by providing an overview of research trends in the study of the commemoration of the war dead in modern Japan. Studies of the attitudes of the living towards the dead in Japan have mainly focused on ancestor worship performed by family members. The issue of the war dead and their treatment has been the subject of debate within Japanese society since the end of the Second World War. Those who were killed in action, unlike other war casualties in Japan, have been accorded privileged treatment and been enshrined in Yasukuni. Studies of the commemoration of war dead in Japan began with the Yasukuni shrine issue, but research has recently appeared that deals with various types of commemoration. The latter part of this article discusses the commemorative pilgrimages in the former battlefields in Southeast Asia by Buddhist priests during the 1950s and 1960s. By doing so it provides an alternative perspective to the overly Yasukuni-centered discussion of the commemoration of war dead and highlights the missing link between the religious sectors’ engagement with the governmental project to recover the remains of the fallen and the later pilgrimages organized by each religious group that began in earnest after the lifting of restrictions on overseas travel in 1964.

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