Yasukuni, a section of Tokyo north of the Imperial Palace means literally "peaceful country".

The Yasukuni Shrine is a war memorial built in 1869. It is adjacent to a museum with 2 rooms dedicated to the kamikaze pilots in World War II. It's a rough paralell to the United States' Arlington Cemetery.

The first exhibit is sponsored by the survivors of the 721st Naval Task Force, the Jinrai Butai or Divine Thunderbolt Corps. They flew the OKHA, or Cherry Blossom gliders which were towed aloft and released within striking distance of the U.S. fleet. Each aircraft held a single pilot, three minutes worth of propellent in the tail, and a 1,200-kilogram bomb in the nose cone. On the wall, next to it, it said that every member of the corps was asked individually whether he would undertake a fatal mission-- 100% replied yes.

In the second room, a notice states that 6,000 young men between the ages of 17 and 30 found the courage to crash their planes into the U.S. fleet-- as they boarded, they vowed to meet again when the cherries bloomed at Yasukuni.

On the wall, there are final photographs taken of handsome young pilots with their families, knowing that they'll never see them again. Underneath, in glass cases, are their final letters.

Pilot Officer Masahisa Uemura to his infant daughter Motoko, depicted together in a photograph, wrote to her, "I want you to respect your mother and be like her, always honest and kind... I won't see you again in this life, so when you want to see me, you should come to the Yasukuni Shrine. If you pray hard enough, I will be there beside you, and share your happiness as my own. Never say you have no father. I will always be with you, by your side."

Uemura died on October 26, 1944 at 26.

Ensign Takamitsu Nishida, aged 22, wrote his parents, "I attack in four hours. I shall be shining among the clouds, drifting and tumbling forever. This is my last letter. Your loving son."

There are last messages from others, including teenage girl nurses and telephone operators who commited suicide rather than be captured.

When I visited, it was virtually deserted, with no other tourists and a few Japanese people.

This shrine remains a controversial issue, similar to the one in the American South-- how to glorify the hero without endorsing the cause for which they died.

Sources: Atlantic Montly, http://www.geraldinesherman.com/WarHeroes.html, http://www.j-aircraft.com/research/quotes/kamikaze.html.
In the past, several Japanese Prime Ministers have paid visits to the Yasukuni Jinja (靖国神社), a Shinto shrine, on August 15, the day that WWII ended. In 2001, 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.

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