Bomb disposal unit finds remnants of suspected incendiary device at shrine for Japanese war dead in Chiyoda Ward.

At approximately 10 in the morning on November 23, a construction worker in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward heard what he described as a loud, explosion-like sound coming from the nearby Yasukuni Shrine. Yasukuni, the most controversial religious site in Japan, commemorates fallen soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Japan.

▼ “It looks like something happened at Yasukuni Shrine. The police, fire fighters, and news crews are all here. They’re not letting anyone into the shrine.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police were summoned and conducted a search of the grounds, during which they found evidence suggesting an explosion had taken place in a public bathroom near the shrine’s south gate. Inside the men’s room, a roughly 30-centimeter (11.8) square hole had been blasted out of a section of the ceiling. Also recovered were dry cell batteries, a lead wire, and four steel tubes, all presumably part of an incendiary device that had been planted.

During this part of the year, both the south gate and the restroom in question are closed from 5 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following day. Police perform regular patrols of the area, but nothing suspicious was observed prior to the blast.

▼ “It’s like there was a terrorist bombing at the south entrance to Yasukuni Shrine. The police are out with a helicopter.”

The blast coincided with the Niinamesai, an annual ceremony in which the emperor offers part of the rice harvest to Shinto deities. The Niinamesai was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., and with this Monday being a national holiday in Japan, more people than usual were gathered at Yasukuni, which typically receives fewer visitors than other shrines of its size in the central Tokyo area. Media reports also indicate that a number of families with children were headed to the shrine as part of the Shichi-Go-San ceremony, in which blessing are bestowed upon children of three, five, and seven years of age. Thankfully, no one was injured, and police say they are continuing their investigation.

Yasukuni officially commemorates Japanese soldiers who died in conflicts during the Meiji, Taisho, and Shows eras. That’s over 100 years of Japanese history, during which a number of different political groups took the reigns of the government and its armed forces. However, Yasukuni’s all-inclusive purpose means that Japanese men who fought in, say, the Russo-Japanese War of the early 1900s, or even World War I, in which Japan fought against Germany, are lumped in together with members of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy from World War II, including a number of convicted war criminals. As such, many view a visit to the shrine, as well as its mere existence, to be an affront to those who suffered as a result of Japanese aggression during the 1930s and ‘40s. At the same time, Japan’s extreme right wing sees the shrine as a reminder of the country’s former military strength and glory.

By just about any measurable standard, Japan remains an incredibly safe country. However, as this incident shows, even here it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings, especially if they draw the holders of such sharply divided views as Yasukuni does.

Sources: NHK, Nikkei, Byokan Sunday, Hamster Sokuho