TOKYO: The Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto sanctuary in Tokyo originally built in 1869 to honour those who gave their lives for Japan.
Around 2.5 million souls are enshrined there, the vast majority of them soldiers who died in Japan’s armed conflicts running up to and including World War II.
But it is also the repository for the souls of 14 men who were convicted of war crimes by a US-led tribunal after Japan’s 1945 surrender, including General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.
China, the two Koreas and other nations that were victims of Japan’s aggressive expansionism in the period see the shrine as a symbol of the nation’s militaristic past.
Liberals in Japan tend to stay away from the sanctuary, but conservative lawmakers have routinely visited to pay respect to the war dead as well as to demonstrate their ideological stance to voters and neighbouring countries.
Conservative former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who led the Liberal Democratic Party, which is now in opposition, prayed there once a year during his 2001-2006 tenure, enraging China and South Korea.
But prime ministers since Koizumi, from a fairly wide range of ideological backgrounds, have stayed away, in part to avoid diplomatic confrontations and emotional domestic debates.
While the shrine, in the centre of Tokyo, has become a rallying point for Japan’s far right, it is also a popular sightseeing spot and five million people visit every year.
It is renowned for spectacular cherry blossom in spring, while in autumn its many gingko trees, with their fan-shaped leaves, put on a display as they turn from light green to yellow. — AFP