When Japanese politicians visit the Yasukuni Shrine, the country’s most controversial Shinto shrine, it causes an international incident. The same is true for Pokémon developers.
In Japanese, the first Shinto shrine visit of the year is called hatsumode. People visit Shinto shrines that are close to either where they live, or if they are going as a company, near where they work. The enshrine kami or deity looks over and protects the surrounding areas.
As popular Japanese game site My Game News Flash notes, staff from Creatures Inc., the studio behind Pokémon games, toys and cards, came under fire for visiting their local shrine, the Yasukuni Shrine. It’s about a ten-minute walk from their office.
The Yasukuni Shrine dates from 1869. The Meiji Emperor, under whom the country modernised and Westernised, originally established the shrine to honour those who died fighting to return the Emperor to power in what was essentially a Japanese civil war. Among those enshrined are Shoin Yoshida and Ryoma Sakamoto, who not only supported to the restoration of Imperial Power but also pushed for the country to look to Westward.
Since then, however, the shrine has enshrined those who fought and died for Imperial forces, whether they be Japanese or those living in the Empire of Japan, including Koreans and later Taiwanese. (This is also controversial with some Korean descendants now demanding that the souls of their ancestors be removed.) In total, over 2.5 million souls are enshrined at Yasukuni.
It wasn’t until 1978 that fourteen Class A war criminals were secretly enshrined. Of course, there are also a large number of Class B and C war criminals also enshrined at Yasukuni, which has since become synonymous with Japanese military aggression.
Basically, it’s everything you want to stay away from if you’re an international company that typically avoids courting controversy.
On its official Twitter, Creatures Inc. posted that staff did its hatsumode at Yasukuni Shrine to ring in the year of the boar. The visit appears apolitical, but with the controversy swirling around Yasukuni, it’s hard to separate politics and history.
Immediately, Chinese and Korean fans criticised the company, pointing out how controversial the shrine is and how insensitive such a decision.
Creatures Inc. deleted the tweet after some Chinese fans called for a boycot. The word “Yasukuni” also began trending on Twitter in South Korea.