Bieliebers They Are Not—Chinese Outraged by Singer’s Tokyo Shrine Visit

Justin Bieber has once again displayed his talent for seemingly effortless international gaffes. The twenty-year-old Canadian pop princeling, who last year wrote “hopefully she would have been a Belieber” in the guestbook on his visit to the Anne Frank House, has now posted a picture of himself visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead that include fourteen convicted war criminals from World War II.

The photo stirred up anger among citizens of Japan’s humongous neighbor, who resent their brutal treatment at Japanese hands during World War II and what Chinese view as Japan’s occasional attempts to whitewash that history. Bieber seems to have come upon the shrine by chance while in the Japanese capital of Tokyo; he wrote apologetically on Instagram, a photo-sharing site, “While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which [sic] I saw a beautiful shrine. I was mislead to think the Shrines [sic] were only a place of prayer.” Not so, he soon learned. “To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry.” He concluded, “I love you China and I love you Japan.”

The pop star’s inadvertent photo-op (at least it wasn’t a selfie) at a locus of contention in China-Japan relations boasts almost immaculately poor timing. On April 21, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni, which Chinese state media agency Xinhua deemed a “slap in the face,” and on April 22, around 150 Japanese lawmakers and one cabinet-level minister paid their respects at the shrine, further fueling resentment.

Chinese netizens reacted to Bieber’s impromptu Yasukuni visit with anger and snark. Some took shots at Bieber’s intelligence, with one user of blogging site Douban writing, “He probably thought it was Japan’s biggest sushi shop.” On Weibo, China’s Twitter, one user wrote, “Previously, he was a young genius. Now he’s a born idiot.” Referring to Bieber’s comment about loving both China and Japan, another Weibo user proffered a translation of Bieber’s online apology: “The context is ‘I love renminbi, I love the Japanese yen.’”

Speaking of lucre, in late 2013, Bieber performed in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Dalian, and Shanghai, where some VIP tickets purportedly sold for as much as $1,400. If Bieber plans to perform in China again, he may find a somewhat less rapturous welcome next time.