Justin Bieber’s First Foray Into East Asian Geopolitics Didn’t Go Very Well

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April 23 2014 12:10 PM

Bieber at Yasukuni

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Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including several hundred individuals convicted of war crimes during World War II, is a perennial flashpoint in relations between Japan and its neighbors. Just this week, a visit to the shrine by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed by a visit by 150 ministers, provoked angry responses from China and South Korea and—on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country—irritation from Washington.

Then … Justin Bieber got involved.

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The singer was apparently passing the shrine and asked his driver to pull over, posting photos on his Instagram with the caption “thank you for your blessings.” This, not surprisingly, caused outrage among Bieber’s many fans on the Chinese social networking site Weibo and even drew comment from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang, who puzzled at the motives of the “so-called Canadian famous singer.”

Bieber deleted the offending images and posted an apology on his account saying he had been “mislead [sic] to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer.”

Unlike some of his other recent transgressions, it seems quite possible that this was just a misunderstanding. But he might want to brush up on some of the more sensitive points of East Asian history next time he’s in the area.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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