Tokyo (dpa) – The Yasukuni Shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo, has
played a central role in Japan’s diplomatic disputes with
neighbouring countries.

The shrine honours Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including 14 men
charged by the Allies after World War II as Class A war criminals.

The wartime leaders, including general Hideki Tojo, were accused of
waging war and committing crimes against peace and humanity. Seven of
them were hanged.

Tojo served as prime minister during most of the war and was
responsible for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

More than 20 million people in other Asian countries were killed by
the Imperial Japanese Army, historians say.

The figure includes victims of the Rape of Nanjing in 1937, in which
some 200,000 people were killed and tens of thousands of women raped,
according to an international war crimes court.

The late emperor Hirohito, who reigned during the war, stopped
visiting the Yasukuni Shrine due to his displeasure over the 1978
enshrinement of the war criminals.

Yushukan, a war museum located within the compound of the Yasukuni
Shrine, showcases exhibits that justify Japan’s waging of the war.

While some Japanese revere the shrine, which was built in 1869, it is
seen as a hated symbol of wartime atrocities for many of the
country’s neighbours, particularly China and the Koreas, who see it
as glorifying the wartime aggression.

The shrine makes headlines around the world when Japanese leaders
visit on the anniversary of the nation’s surrender in World War II,
and during the annual spring and autumn festivals.

In 1985, prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone became the first postwar
leader to visit the shrine on the August 15 anniversary. Strong
protests from Asian countries kept him from repeating the visit on
subsequent anniversaries.

Premier Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine every year during his
2001-06 tenure, leading Chinese and South Korean leaders to boycott
diplomatic talks with him.