In Japan, the fight over war memory has new implications

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TOKYO — At a Shinto shrine here lined with cherry trees, a war museum asserts a jarring and unrepentant storyline about Japan’s wartime past, brushing aside well-documented atrocities and describing its rampage through Asia as tragic but justified.

The museum, making its case with videos and wall displays, says Japan “advanced through” Asia between 1931 and 1945 to protect neighboring countries from Western colonialism. There is no mention that the Imperial Army forced women into front-line brothels, or that its soldiers ransacked cities, using civilians for bayonet practice.

The Yasukuni Shrine is a religious site, not a national one, and some Japanese visit simply to honor the war dead. But Yasukuni and its adjacent museum remain the symbolic heart of World War II militarism, when Shinto was the state-sponsored religion and an emperor-worshiping army tried to take control of Asia.

The shrine in central Tokyo also has come to symbolize a hardening, did-no-wrong narrative here about history, even though it contradicts the near-consensus of historians, including most in Japan. That sentiment was once held by only a nationalist fringe, but it is pushing closer to the mainstream as Japan’s political leaders shift to the right amid fears that the economically stagnant country is losing its clout.­­...

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