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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Tokyo marks day with silent prayers
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Visitor to Yasukuni shrine - 15/8/05
This man said his mother and sister died in the war
People gathered at Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine on Monday morning before they had even opened the huge ceremonial wooden doors, emblazoned with golden chrysanthemums.

The Yasukuni is where Japan honours its war dead.

It is controversial because the country's war-time leaders, convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal in 1948, are also honoured there.

Annual visits by Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have angered Japan's neighbours. So far he has not visited this year, but there has been much speculation about whether or not he would mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II with a visit.

For many, though, this is the place they wanted to be on this 15 August.

The doors creaked loudly as they were slowly pulled open on the dot of six o'clock.

Built in 1869 to honour victims of the Boshin Civil War
Now venerates the souls of 2.5m of Japan's war dead
Those enshrined include 14 Class A war criminals

The crowds, among them the occasional veteran in uniform, streamed through and made their way to the temple.

One man was wearing a white head-band displaying Japan's war-time flag.

He carried a huge standard with the country's modern day colours.

Smartly dressed in a black suit with a black tie, he stopped in front of the shrine and shouted: "To the souls of the departed of the motherland, I would like to express my deepest condolence in prayer".

Afterwards he told me his mother and elder sister had died in the war.

By mid-morning the Yasukuni shrine was packed as more and more people, some of them tourists, some of them veterans, streamed through the gates.

Someone described it as like a crowded train.

Silent prayer

The official commemoration, at lunchtime, was led by Emperor Akihito.

Shigeo Kobayashi
I don't care if they are war criminals or not. I just prayed for peace
Shigeo Kobayashi

He sat on a white stage with his wife the empress at a hall near the imperial palace, watched by more than 7,500 relatives of Japan's war dead.

In a meticulously timed and executed ceremony, the emperor and empress got up and slowly made their way to the war memorial on the stroke of noon.

They both bowed deeply and then lowered their heads in silent prayer.

Elsewhere in Tokyo, not everyone was aware of the significance of 15 August.

"I didn't know today was the anniversary," said Eri Miyamoto, 24.

"But my grandmother tells me a lot about World War II. It always makes me think 'Why could human beings do such a hard thing?' I feel sad about what's happening in Iraq as well," she said.

Ryohei Obuchi is a salaryman in his fifties.

"Of course I know today is memorial day," he said. "In Japan we celebrate if someone reaches 60 years old. We call them 'kanreki'. It means you are old enough to be re-born.

"The 60th is a big turning point for people, and also for the country. It is amazing Japan has become Kanreki already," he said.

"We should never have war again," he added as he walked away.

Coming out of Shinbasi station I met Shigeo Kobayashi, who said he had just returned from the Yasukuni shrine where he had prayed for peace.

"It was my first visit there," he said. "I wanted to see it since Prime Minister Koizumi is so anxious to go there. So I went to see it for myself, but I also prayed for the people honoured there. I don't care if they are war criminals or not. I just prayed for peace.'

See Japan's controversial Yasukuni shrine


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