In the past, several Japanese Prime Minister
s have paid visits to the Yasukuni Jinja (靖国神社), a Shinto
August 15, the day that WWII
, the new Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
planned his first visit to the shrine on his first year in office.
His visit was strongly controversial to many in Japan and more so in neighboring countries.
Both Chinese and South Korean governments protested his plans to visit. Their arguments were similar, stating that a man who represents Japan
should not visit a shrine where class A war criminals are enshrined. China
protested Koizumi's plan to visit the shrine on the day that World War II ended.
South Korean president Kim Dae jung
stated that a healthy relationship between two nations can only be built upon understanding of the past. Men from a small activist group in South Korea chopped off their pinkies in unison during a demonstration.
Internally, many Japanese politicians in the Diet
advised Koizumi to not give in to gaiatsu
, or foreign political pressure, basically so Japan won't seem like a push-over
. After giving much thought, Koizumi
at the last moment decided to visit on the 13th instead of the 15th.
Koizumi went as an individual and not as a Prime Minister
of a nation, and stated that his intention was to pay respect to the men who were not class A war criminals that fought and lost their lives for Japan. He mentioned the same letters mentioned above
of the Kamikaze pilots.
During his visit, fights broke out outside on Yasukuni street between a group of protesters and a group of nationalist sympathizers. Media reported that the nationalists were more hostile. Every year, friends and families of the solidiers who lost their lives come for a visit on memorial day. In 2001, due to its increased awareness by the media, the number of visitors were twice the usual, with a large ratio of youth. Japan's education system has been criticized for not including sufficient history of Japan's wartime atrocities.
A reporter interviewed a priest at the shrine asking if Yasukuni Shrine has any intention of removing class A war criminals. "Of course not" was his answer.
Yasukuni shrine was built in 1869 (Meiji
2nd) by the Meiji Emperor's request, as a place to revere those who lost lives in a civil war that preceded the Meiji Restoration
Those who died fighting for Japan in proceeding wars were also enshrined there, and their souls are revered as gods by the Shinto religion.
Currently, 2.5 million are enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine.
The existence of Yasukuni Shrine is said to have helped ease the minds of pilots, marines, and soldiers during the war, knowing that they had a place to meet their friends and families even if they died in combat, no matter what their sins.
Information on Yasukuni shrine: http://www.yasukuni.jp/ (page in Japanese)
Watching/reading news in Japan during August 2001.
Corrections from gn0sis, -brazil- were incorporated. Thanks.