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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Japanese PM defends shrine visits
Yasukuni shrine (archive picture)
The shrine honours Japan's recent war dead
Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi says he will continue visiting a controversial Tokyo war shrine despite evidence the former emperor opposed it.

Documents show Emperor Hirohito stopped visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead, because war criminals were honoured there.

The shrine is a key source of tension between Japan and its neighbours, who say it honours Japan's militarist past.

Mr Koizumi's visits have caused ties with China and South Korea to worsen.

'From my heart'

The information about Emperor Hirohito's feelings came from a recently discovered journal written by a former senior palace official, Grand Steward Tomohiko Tomita. Excerpts from the journal were published in the Japanese press.

The emperor, who died in 1989, visited the shrine eight times, including a final visit in 1975.

But in 1978, Yasukuni's priest enshrined 14 Class A war criminals there, including the war-time prime minister, General Hideki Tojo.

The emperor explained in 1988 that his decision not to visit the shrine again was because of the war criminals issue, the journal says.

"This is from my heart," Emperor Hirohito is quoted as saying.

His son, the current Emperor Akihito, has not visited Yasukuni since he ascended the throne in 1989.

But Mr Koizumi has gone several times, sparking serious diplomatic rows with South Korea and China, which were often brutally occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army until the end of WWII.

The prime minister said the emperor's reported views would not impact on his future visits, saying the visits were "a matter of one's heart".

"There is no right or wrong about the visit," he said. "You can go or not go. One is free to make one's own decision."

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