The Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社 lit. pacify nation) is a Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Japan built in 1869 to commemorate those who died fighting for Japan. It now is the resting place of thousands of Japanese soldiers killed between 1853 and 1945, and its Book of Souls lists the names of approximately 2.5 million soldiers.
The shrine has become increasingly embroiled in controversy as a symbol of the Japanese colonialism and nationalism of the early 20th century, a controversy stirred up partly by the shrine's continuing defense of Japanese colonial acts as necessary and justified: a pamphlet published by the shrine says "War is a really tragic thing to happen, but it was necessary in order for us to protect the independence of Japan and to prosper together with Asian neighbors." The shrine runs a museum on the military history of Japan. The largest part of the museum is spent on justifying Japan's former colonial policies in Asia and on denying it committed war crimes such as the rape of Nanking, in a blatant example of revisionism. The shrine is a focal point for Japanese World War II veterans, and right wing movements, and provides access to its facilities on a regular basis. The museum also contains a section on kamikaze pilots and has some interesting pieces of military hardware such as a Zero fighter.
This controversy exploded openly in 1978, when the remains of 1,068 convicted war criminals were secretly moved there. Among these were 13 notorious Class A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo. The shrine has further angered many with its defiant defense of the war criminals; the same pamphlet mentioned above also claims: "Some 1,068 people, who were wrongly accused as war criminals by the Allied court, were enshrined here." The shrine's English-language website refers to those 1,068 as the "'Martyrs of Showa' who were cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces."
The controversial nature of the shrine has figured largely in both domestic Japanese politics and the country's relations with other countres in the region in the years since 1978. Three Japanese prime ministers have caused an uproar by visiting the shrine since then: Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1985, Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1996, and especially Junichiro Koizumi, who visited four times, in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Visits by prime ministers to the shrine generally provoke official condemnation by nations in the region, especially China and South Korea, as they are seen as condoning Japan's military aggression against those nations during World War II. Visits to the shrine also are controversial in the domestic debate over the proper role of religion in government, as some wish to restore government ownership of the religious shrine. Others would like a non-religious memorial to be built for Japan's military dead so that those wishing to honor them do not have to go to the Yasukuni Shrine.