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The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"He told the audience what they wanted to hear"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Japanese PM sparks holy row
Yoshiro Mori
Yoshiro Mori's remarks angered Japan's opposition
The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, has sparked a row by describing Japan as a divine country centred on the emperor.

Mr Mori made the remarks at an event for followers of the native Shinto religion, which worshipped the late Emperor Hirohito as a living god during the World War II.

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from the country's opposition leader and are likely to anger Asian countries that were overrun by Japanese Imperial forces in the war.

We hope the Japanese people acknowledge that Japan is a divine nation centring on the emperor

Yoshiro Mori
Mr Mori later told reporters he had been referring to the emperor only as a historical symbol, and his comments were not intended to be anti-democratic.

He said he had been trying to stress that the country's history and culture should be treasured.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Yukio Hatoyama, described Mr Mori's comments as dangerous and said they were a throwback to the days of Imperial Japan.

And Communist Party chief Tetsuzo Fuwa said: "The idea of 'divine Japan' made people believe Japan was a special country entitled to conquer the world and became the spiritual driving force behind the nation's militarism and aggression."

But some government ministers defended Mr Mori, saying the comments did not violate Japan's principle of democracy.

Shinto monk
Shinto followers worshipped the emperor as a god during WWII
Justice Minister Hideo Usui said the comments were Mr Mori's way of expressing his "love and respect" for the emperor.

Shinto was promoted as the national religion by Japan's militaristic rulers in the first half of the 20th Century.

Followers believed that the emperor was directly descended from the gods who gave birth to the Japanese islands.

Japan's postwar pacifist constitution decrees the rigid separation of religion and politics.

It has also stripped the emperor of any political role, describing him only as a symbol of the nation.

General election

Mr Mori took over as prime minister only six weeks ago with a reputation for undiplomatic comments.

He has previously sparked controversy by saying that some teachers were controlled by communists.

He has also made remarks which were considered offensive about Aids and US crime.

Analysts say that, on this occasion, Mr Mori may have been trying to generate support from religious groups in the run-up to a general election which is widely expected to be called next month.

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See also:

16 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan: A divine country?
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Yoshiro Mori
15 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Row over Obuchi funeral
09 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan fixes election date
30 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan gives priority to Russia
07 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mori pledges Japan 'rebirth'
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
New Japanese PM chosen
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