On Friday, a group of us went down to Yasukuni shrine for the anniversary of the end of WWII to shoot some pictures.
I’ve been down there a lot, as I used to live nearby in Kagurazaka and once or twice before on the August 15th anniversary.
This time, I wanted to shoot with more purpose than I had before, taking better pictures.
I got there early, around 8:30, which, as it turns out, was a bit too late to see former prime minister Koizumi paying his respects. I ran into a few photographers I knew or that I’d seen around. Bruce Meyer was there, Gon-chan (a tabloid photog I know from Kabukicho,) and a few others who looked familiar.
Since Yasukuni is such a controversial place, you get all sorts of people there, ranging from families honoring fallen relatives, old soldiers, right-wingers and then a strange sub-group I call the CosPlayers. CosPlay is what Japanese call Costume Play and most often manifests itself when fans will dress up as their favorite characters from comic books or animated cartoons. The Yasukuni CosPlayers, however, dress up as soldiers, mostly from the second world war, but there’s one old duffer who wears a white beard and a getup from the late 1800’s. They get a lot of attention, of course, as they strut around saluting for the cameras, before making a grand entrance up the walkway to the temple. You’ll see their photos along with any international news story on Yasukuni, which I think is a bit of a shame. Often you’ll hear them described as old soldiers donning their uniforms, but that’s not the case, as most of them are under sixty, some in their 30’s and 40’s.
Other times, you’ll hear them described as Right-Wingers, but though their personal beliefs might be on the right, they’re not a part of the established right-wing groups. (I could be wrong on that point, but though they sat in the same area with the right-wingers, they didn’t seem to be connected in any formal way.)
The true right-wing groups are known as the Uyoku Dantai. They do dress in uniforms, but para-military at best, not WWII surplus. Typically they wear blue worker’s outfits with the name of their organization on the left breast of their shirt or jumpsuit. Other adornments include embroidered patches such as the Japanese flag. Headbands are sometimes worn, as well, typically with the Japanese flag.
There are many Uyoku Dantai groups, some with close ties to the Yakuza. The largest, the Dai Nippon Seinen Sha, (大日本青年社, or “Japan Youth Party”) was founded by a branch of the noted crime syndicate, Sumiyoshi-ikka. (Sumiyoshi family.)
Wikipedia has a good article on the different groups.
These were the groups I was most interested in shooting.
Adrian had gotten some good pictures of them last year, so I decided to see what it was all about. What happened was a revelation to me. It seems that the whole protest is carefully-choreographed, with well-understood boundaries. Police wear riot gear and protestors make as much noise as possible. There’s some shoving, but no fists thrown. The police have their riot shields, but there are no batons out. Likewise, the Uyoku don’t try very hard to cross the barriers, content to put on a nice display of Aggressive Non-Violence.
Take a look at the slideshow.