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For Some People, Bitterness Won't Die With Hirohito Rites

February 23, 1989|KARL SCHOENBERGER | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — A 50-year-old grudge against Emperor Hirohito brought the Rev. Young Chang Park to Tokyo this week, as royalty and heads of state and government from around the world gathered to honor the late Japanese monarch in funeral ceremonies Friday.

Park, a native of Korea who is now the senior pastor of the Korean Church of Southern California, based in Los Angeles, came to air his grievances over the pre-World War II system of state Shinto, which he says oppressed his countrymen, ruined his youth and dispatched his father to an early death in prison.

He and his father were arrested in 1938 for sneaking into the Parliament building in Tokyo with a petition demanding that Japanese colonial authorities stop forcing Koreans to worship at Shinto shrines. Park managed to flee to China, but his father did not survive the war.

"I am filled with bitterness," the Presbyterian minister said. "As a Christian, I should feel mercy and contain my anger at a time of mourning like this. But I can never forgive or forget."

Park's is not the only voice violating the mood of circumspection that has more or less prevailed since Hirohito fell ill with cancer last fall and died, at 87, on Jan. 7.

Although the vast majority of Japanese have expressed sorrow--or disinterest--at Hirohito's demise, a significant minority has joined foreign critics like Park in attacking the religious and political institutions that made Hirohito a god incarnate and led Japan down a disastrous path of territorial aggrandizement and war.

They warn that the dark days of totalitarianism might one day return, and they contend that glorification of the emperor in the state-sponsored funeral ceremony will help legitimize forces that would revive Japan's old, evil ways. On the radical fringe, these anti-emperor protesters seek publicity by firing homemade rockets and exploding makeshift bombs, provoking a crisis atmosphere of strict security for visiting dignitaries.

Clergymen, Labor Activists

But their ranks also include intellectuals, clergymen, labor activists and ordinary people who are disturbed by the way ruling politicians and the news media have handled the symbolism surrounding the death and interment of the last of the major wartime leaders. Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, for instance, has eulogized Hirohito as a "man of peace."

Norio Odawara, an official with the National Council of Churches in Japan, said his organization decided to establish the "Imperial Transition Information Center" when it suspected conservative elements would try to take advantage of Hirohito's death and the ascension of his son, Akihito, "to advance their own political purposes."

In doing so, they broke taboos against criticizing the emperor and against disturbing the mourning for the deceased, both of which are embedded in Japanese culture.

"We don't see Hirohito's death as a biological death, or the end of a human life," Odawara said. "It's a political death, and now is the time for us Japanese to think seriously about each of the millions of killings that were carried out in his name."

Critics of the emperor speak out at considerable risk. When Makoto Mori, president of Meiji University, issued a public warning that Japanese should not "sanctify or make absolute" the emperor system after Hirohito's death, he was subjected to death threats.

Still, the protesters have carried out nearly 1,000 small rallies since Hirohito's death, police said. And organizers said that as many as 100 separate anti-emperor demonstrations are scheduled throughout Japan on Friday, which has been declared a national holiday.

It is not clear how many people will participate in the protests. Certainly many more will line the route of the cortege, watch the funeral on television and observe the government-recommended moment of silence at noon. Others are expected to turn away from the historic event. Ski resorts are booked solid for the three-day weekend, and video rental shops reportedly are bracing for the same kind of boom in demand witnessed on the day Hirohito died.

The authorities, meanwhile, are preparing for another kind of contingency: terrorism.

On Tuesday, police discovered two homemade rocket launchers in the woods near Narita Airport, long a target of radical protest. The projectiles had timers set for firing Friday, and the police linked the devices to protests of Hirohito's funeral.

A leader of Chukaku-ha, or Middle Core Faction, one of the radical leftist groups suspected of planning guerrilla tactics for Friday, said that violence is justified because "the essence of the emperor system is violence."

Interviewed in the fortress-like headquarters of the group, which espouses Marxist-Leninist revolution, Yoshihisa Fujiwara said the Japanese "couldn't resist when we were swept off to war. Now we need real power to fight back, and part of that power must come from bearing arms."

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