The Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan's war dead, has for years been the focus of attention from critics who say it symbolises Japan's failure to atone for its past militarism and war crimes.
Visits by Japanese leaders, especially around the anniversary of Japan's World War Two surrender on August 15, have proved especially controversial.
The following are some key facts about the shrine:
- Established in 1869 in central Tokyo and funded by the government until 1945, Yasukuni is dedicated to the nation's 2.5 million war dead, including about 1,000 convicted war criminals. No human remains are housed there.
- The shrine played a central role in the wartime state Shinto religion which mobilised the population to fight in the name of a divine emperor.
- Among those honoured are 14 World War Two leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as "Class A" war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, Japan's wartime prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbour. Seven of those convicted were executed by hanging.
- The Class A criminals were listed as gods at Yasukuni in a secret ceremony in 1978.
|Yasukuni attracts regular right-wing demonstrations [EPA]
- The shrine commemorates the dead from 11 wars, two of them domestic and the others with Russia, China, Korea, Taiwan and the United States.
- Visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders have elicited sharp responses from China, which was invaded by Japan before World War Two and partially occupied until 1945, and from North and South Korea, which Japan colonised from 1910 until 1945.
- Towards the end of World War Two Kamikaze suicide pilots would embark on their missions with the shrine's amulets under their headbands, telling one another, "See you at Yasukuni".
- A museum in the shrine's grounds depicts the Pacific war as one Japan was forced to fight in self-defence. It has been criticised for ignoring the atrocities Imperial troops committed in Asia.
- Yasuhiro Nakasone visited Yasukuni as prime minister in 1985, prompting a huge outcry in China. He made no more visits.
- Junichiro Koizumi, former prime minister, promised to visit Yasukuni during his campaign for ruling party president in 2001. The pledge was seen as key to winning since it secured the votes of a powerful association of war veterans and their families.
- Koizumi and other leaders say their visits are intended not to glorify war but to honour the war dead and pray for peace.
- The names of about 27,800 men from Taiwan and more than 21,000 Koreans killed while serving with Imperial forces are recorded at Yasukuni, shrine officials say. Some relatives want their names removed from lists of those honoured there.
- In Japanese, "yasu" means peace and "kuni" means country.