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Japanese PM visits Tokyo war shrine
Updated: 2005-10-17 09:29

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed at a Tokyo shrine honoring the country's war dead on Monday, defying critics who say the visits glorify militarism and risking a further deterioration in relations with China and South Korea.

The visit was Koizumi's fifth to the Yasukuni Shrine since becoming prime minister in April 2001, and came despite a recent court decision that ruled the visits violate Japan's constitutional division of religion and the state.

Japanese PM visits Tokyo war shrine
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi arrives at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo Monday, Oct. 17, 2005.[AP]
Koizumi last went to Yasukuni in January 2004, triggering protests by Beijing and Seoul and compounding tensions between Tokyo and its neighbors. Those tensions peaked in April with anti-Japanese riots in several Chinese cities.

The international implications of the visit were immediately apparent. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon summoned Japanese Ambassador Shotaro Oshima to protest shortly after the visit. Kyodo News agency reported that the Japanese Embassy in Beijing had issued a warning urging Japanese citizens to be cautious.

Japanese PM visits Tokyo war shrine
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pays homage at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo October 17, 2005.[Reuters]
Japan's 2.5 million war dead are worshipped as deities at Yasukuni, a shrine belonging to Japan's native Shinto religion. They include executed war criminals from World War II, such as wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The shrine also runs a museum that attempts to justify Japan's wartime aggression.

In what could be a nod to the constitutional dispute, however, Koizumi made the visit in a business suit rather than traditional Japanese dress, and he only stood in silence and bowed at the entrance to the shrine, throwing coins into a donation box, rather than entering the inner chamber as he has done in the past.

Japanese PM visits Tokyo war shrine
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi smiles prior to a meeting at his official residence at his official residence in Tokyo on Friday October 14, 2005, just after the upper house approved the privatization of the country's postal service, setting in motion the creation of the world's largest private bank.[AP]
Speculation has been high all year that Koizumi would visit Yasukuni, but he had not said whether he would go until an announcement early Monday. The visits are popular among conservatives and the families of soldiers who died in World War II.

"If my children were dead and enshrined here, I would want him to make a visit. So I understand the prime minister's feelings," said Kyoko Matsuura, a housewife in her 40s who was in a crowd at the shrine. "I think he comes here with a commitment not to repeat a war."

Public opinion, however, is deeply split over the visits. Nippon Television conducted a poll over the weekend showing that 47.6 percent of respondents supported the visits, while 45.5 percent were opposed. NTV surveyed 479 people from Friday to Sunday, and provided no margin of error.

Koizumi's move also defied a recent ruling by the Osaka High Court that the visits violated the constitutional division between religion and the state. Koizumi suggests the visits are personal, but as in past occasions, he went to Yasukuni on Monday in an official car, accompanied by his aides.

But several other rulings have avoided ruling on the constitutionality of the visits.

Yasukuni officials said a group of more than 100 national lawmakers are scheduled to visit the shrine Tuesday morning.

The visits have enraged Japanese neighbors and worsened relations with South Korea and China, which suffered from Tokyo's conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

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