Here’s the main reason I will always feel a little bit sorry for anyone in the prime minister position in Japan: They will have to decide, every year, how to deal with what is probably the most public, and most closely internationally watched, act of national mourning in the world. The choice is to either visit the Yasukuni Shrine, or not.
The controversy in a nutshell:
Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja) is a Shinto shrine located in Tokyo, Japan, dedicated to the spirits of soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. In October 2004, its Book of Souls listed the names of 2,466,532 men and women, including 27,863 Taiwanese and 21,181 Koreans, whose lives were dedicated to the service of Imperial Japan, particularly to those killed in wartime.
The shrine is a source of considerable controversy. Included in the Book of Souls are 1,068 people convicted of war crimes by a post World War II court. A total of 12 convicted and 2 suspected Class A war criminals (“crime against peace”) are enshrined at Yasukuni. The shrine’s history museum contains an account of Japan’s actions in World War II, which is considered revisionist by many outside of Japan.
Visits to the shrine by cabinet members have been a cause of protest at home and abroad. China, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan have protested against various visits since 1985. Despite the controversy, the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made annual visits from 2001 to 2006.