world war ii: war criminals

Japan’s Shinto Shrines in Crisis Despite Abe Pushing Religion

Isabel Reynolds, Bloomberg, May 23, 2016

In Japan, the Ise Grand Shrine is considered one of the holiest sites in the Shinto religion, a faith whose rituals have been woven into the nation’s culture for centuries. Located more than 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tokyo, the historic complex of wooden buildings set in a deep forest is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom Japan’s emperors are said to be descended.

Ise Jingu, as it is known in Japanese, is also fraught with political meaning this week for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hosts a Group of Seven summit on the nearby and secluded Kashiko Island. Despite constitutional restrictions, Abe would like to see the indigenous religion play a more prominent role in Japanese society.

Yet as the international spotlight falls on Shinto’s equivalent of the Vatican, which draws 7 million or more visitors annually, Japan’s lesser shrines face a protracted financial crisis in a country with a decelerating population and younger generations far less attached to traditional rituals.

Abe is expected to take his guests to the shrine, in the latest instance of his promotion of Shintoism. He has held New Year’s press conferences at Ise and, in 2013, was the first premier since 1929 to take part in a rebuilding ceremony held there every 20 years, according to John Breen, a history professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

“Abe is much more focused on Shinto than almost any other post war prime minister,” said Breen, “He is a key member of Shinto Seiji Renmei, a political association that has as its aim the location of Shinto at the heart of government,” he added.

Ise is less controversial than the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead, including World War II leaders convicted as Class A war criminals. Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese leaders, including Abe, have sparked anger in China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, Abe’s 2013 participation in the Ise ceremony drew criticism from Christians in Japan, who said it violated a constitutional ban on the government favoring any particular religion. For some, Shinto is still associated with past nationalism, even though the U.S. and its allies removed its status as the national religion at the end of the war.

Ise Shrine employs about 600 people and, according to Diamond business magazine, spent about 55 billion yen ($500 million) on replacing all its buildings and artifacts in 2013–the 62nd time it had carried out this ritual. Its high priests and priestesses are relatives of the Imperial family, and past visitors have included Queen Elizabeth II.

On a visit two weeks ahead of the May 26-27 G-7 summit, dozens of police clad in rain gear were already patrolling the shrine’s grounds among a steady stream of visitors.

For those who run the other 80,000 or so shrines in Japan, life can be hard. The country has only 20,000 priests, meaning that many of them supervise more than one shrine.

Small shrines rely on visitors’ offerings or fees for blessings for everything from marriages to new buildings and cars. Priests often combine their religious duties with a job as a teacher or government employee, according to Iwahashi. Older priests are also increasingly struggling to find successors.

About 41 percent of Japan’s shrines are in danger of disappearing along with the rural communities that support them, estimates Kenji Ishii, a professor of religious studies at Kokugakuin University, one of only two Shinto colleges in Japan.

While the same trend is hitting Buddhist temples in rural areas, shrines are even worse off, according to Hidenori Ukai, a Buddhist priest and author of “Vanishing Temples–the Loss of Regional Areas and Religion.” That’s because temples charge their parishioners for the maintenance of family graves, he said.

“We joke that we take people’s bones hostage,” Ukai said. “Things are hard for temples in areas with shrinking populations, but it’s worse for shrines” which do not conduct burial rites or offer graveyards, he added.

Tadaki Hattori, the 51-year-old chief priest of the tiny, 200 square-meter (240 square yard) Koami Shrine in the busy Nihonbashi area of central Tokyo, said he often tells his fellow priests that making a success of a shrine comes down to sheer effort. He decided to take a shot at full-time priesthood five years ago, after inheriting the 550-year-old shrine from his father.

What was once a lonely spot hemmed in by a parking lot Hattori’s father used to supplement his income, is now bustling with visitors. The run-down buildings have been spruced up with a new bronze roof paid for by donations, and paper lanterns sponsored by businesses hang at the entrance. Far from worrying over a successor, Hattori said all four of his children are interested in qualifying as priests.

Providing a warm welcome and being willing to explain the shrine to visitors or listen to their problems is key to creating good word-of-mouth, Hattori said. An English-language web page has also helped bring in some of the record numbers of foreign tourists in Tokyo.

“If people put in a bit more effort, I think things could improve,” Hattori said. “They give up too easily. They think they can’t make money, but you don’t know until you try. I think this is a trend in Japanese society as a whole–everyone is a bit weedy these days.”

Researchers often disagree over which murderers should be included as serial killers. Is it enough to simply kill one victim after another, regardless of motive? Should war criminals or terrorists be counted? What about underworld “hit men”? Many historical outlaws and pirates killed dozens—or hundreds—of victims, but do they qualify as serial killers? And what about violent modern gang members? In his book, Serial Killers: The Insatiable Passion (Charles Press Publications, 1995), psychology professor Dr. David Lester makes a persuasive case for including various types of repeat killers under the serial umbrella. His list of examples includes:

  • Nazi war criminals from World War II, such as Dr. Josef Mengele,who serially murdered hundreds of persons in weird medical experiments at the Auschwitz death camp.
  • Mafia killers like Chicago’s Sam Giancana, who began his careers a hit man at age 17, later rising to control organized crime in the Windy City.
  • Political terrorists like Germany’s Ulrike Meinhof, who joined in numerous bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies during the 1970s.  
  • Frontier outlaws like John Murrell, who robbed and killed dozens of victims before he was finally captured in 1834.
  • Street gang members such as “Monster” Kody Scott, who earned a fearsome reputation as a gunman for the Los Angeles

While Dr. Lester accepts all such murderous criminals as bonafide serial killers, other authorities strongly disagree, imposing strict guidelines on who should or should not receive the serial label.

Dr. Fritz Klein, Bergen-Belsen’s camp doctor, standing in a mass grave after liberation.

When asked about his ethical dilemmas on conducting human experiments in the camp system, Klein famously said that: “My Hippocratic oath tells me to cut a gangrenous appendix out of the human body. The Jews are the gangrenous appendix of mankind. That’s why I cut them out.”

He was tried for war crimes committed at both Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, found guilty of only two counts, and executed in December 1945.