RocketNews24, among numerous other news sources, are reporting that Tokugawa Yasuhisa, great-grandson of the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Keiki), has been appointed head priest of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
Yasukuni, as you may know, is the chief Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of those Japanese who gave their lives – chiefly, in battle – for their country. As this includes a number of convicted and accused war criminals, and a great many men involved in the invasions and colonization of Korea, China, and elsewhere, and the various injustices and atrocities associated with those events, it is easy to see why the shrine is the center of considerable controversy, attracting great ire and protest in China and Korea every time a prominent Japanese politician makes a visit there. The shrine is, in any case, a genuine center of rightwing/militarist activity, and contains a majorly biased/skewed war history museum.
Thinking about it historically, in a late 19th through pre-WWII early 20th century context, the shrine is very much embedded in discourses of nationalism as connected to the post-Meiji Restoration creation of the concept of the “modern” “nation-state” of Japan, and thus to themes of Emperor worship and all that. Being that the Meiji Imperial institution was borne out of an anti-Tokugawa revolution, and being that much of the rhetoric of the Meiji state (up through WWII and possibly into the early post-war period) emphasized a conception of the Tokugawa period as a backwards, non-modern, dark ages of feudal repression during which Japan was “closed” to the world, and thus closed to new advancements and development, one would think that Yasukuni itself would also be closely tied up in that same pro-Imperial, pro-modernization, anti-Tokugawa discourse.
So, what does it mean that a Tokugawa, the great-grandson of the very same shogun who was overthrown by the Meiji Restoration, is now the head priest of Yasukuni? On a discursive or symbolic level, I feel there’s something very odd about this juxtaposition… Though, obviously, the State, the Imperial Household, the shrine, and the Tokugawa family have no problems with it, so maybe I’m just imagining things.