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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Should Koizumi have visited the war shrine?
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has gone ahead with a visit to a controversial shrine which honours Japan's war dead.

Since his election in April, Mr Koizumi has said he wanted to visit the Yasukuni shrine on the 56th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, which is this Wednesday.

But Mr Koizumi brought the visit forward to Monday, following fierce protests at home and from Japan's Asian neighbours.

Many see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's former military aggression. Opponents believe the shrine glorifies Japan's war dead, which includes 14 war criminals convicted by the Allies after the war.

Should he have gone to the shrine? Has his attempt at compromise worked?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Since the war shrine is one that glorifies some of the worst war criminals in Japanese history, any visit there by anyone is right to be viewed as an outrage and an insult to those who lost their lives as a result of Japanese aggression.
Suhail Shafi, Malta

I guess I understand the problem a people can have with its war criminals

Franz Bleeker, Germany
As a German, I guess I understand the problem a people can have with its war criminals. Even those war criminals were grandfathers, and remembered by the generations following them. Japan does not look like a country with appetite for another war, and basically, Koizumi's visit should be Japan's own affair. But be it a rather internal business or not (Asian neighbours and overseas war veterans probably look at it differently), Koizumi will have seen and heard those right-wing demonstrators "supporting" his visit. And those demonstrators should really make him think if another such visit would do Japan any good.
Franz Bleeker, Germany

Yes, I think he should have. You can always honour your war dead but then say you are sorry that they fought and died for the wrong reasons, hoping that your nation will never go through such a war again. I am Irish - I have relatives that died in WW1 in the British Army. I also have relatives that fought for the IRA and free state. I am sorry that any of them died. They all answered the call of their country.
Andrew Stack, USA

Those class-A war criminals should not be in the shrine in the first place

Mark Lam, Hong Kong, China
Can you imagine the German chancellor goes to visit the shrine of Hitler, Goering, Himmler and other Nazis? This is exactly what Koizumi has done equivalently by visiting the shrine. Those class-A war criminals should not be in the shrine in the first place, let alone to be honoured by the head of a government. How can we believe the Japanese nationalists have repented their mistakes in WWII, if they continue to honour the war criminals, rewrite history textbooks, deny their wartime atrocities and refuse to compensate those who suffered because of their invasion?
Mark Lam, Hong Kong, China

Personally, as a teenager born 40 years after the war, I don't possess hatred and ill feeling for the Japanese the way my parents and grandparents still do. And I have no objection to Koizumi paying tribute to his country's fallen soldiers. Nevertheless I can't condone his paying tribute to Class-A war criminals who started the Korean, Taiwanese, and Manchurian colonisation that ultimately lead to the invasion of China and the destruction of their own country. I believe the whole world would rise in opposition if a German Chancellor paid tribute to German class-A war criminals (infamous names such as Himmler, Goering, and the rest of Hitler's high command.) And the only solution in my mind is to remove the remains of the war criminals from Yasukuni.

I'd like to inform everyone that Asian countries only complained about Yasukuni after the war criminals' remains were incorporated in the shrine in the late 70s. So, in my opinion, as long as the shrine rids itself of the influences of the Class-A war criminals, no one would object to a nation's leader paying tribute to his countrymen's sacrifices.
Rudy Wang, USA (ex-Taiwan)

Surely it is the time for forgiveness. However, for this to happen genuine repentance must also occur. Japan and the Japanese people have never expressed genuine regret and the recent controversies over Japan's glorification of its history demonstrate this.
Anthony, UK

Dan from the US, you are quite right. The only people who benefit from war are those who will never be in the line of fire
Robbie, England

We should learn from the past but not be dogged by it

Peter, Netherlands
It would have been helpful if the Japanese had been able to take full responsibility for their country's warlike past, as the Germans have done with what I consider to be remarkable sincerity. The fact is that they have not. True, the Second World War was one of the defining events of the twentieth century. However, the wartime generation is now dying off and there is no point in expecting the present generations to take the blame. It is time for the post-WW II generations to move on and shape the world anew. We should learn from the past but not be dogged by it. Mr. Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine is therefore, in my view, an irrelevance.
Peter, Netherlands

Many don't understand is that the shrine is a focus for right wing extremists. War criminals are buried there, and apparently there is even an engine from the Burma railway there. I have visited the shrine and found it a slightly hostile place. The Japanese Prime Minister could have chosen another shrine. I think the reasons for the visit are an attempt to show Japanese that a line must be drawn under the past, that many Japanese died nobly and that Japan will not be a US protectorate.
Paul, Edinburgh, UK

If he really meant to pray for the fallen soldiers, then I say he chose the most wrong place, for no souls would love to stay in the same house where enshrines moronic generals who, for their petty selfish reasons, kept their own people slaughtered until the whole nation was nearly annihilated. If he sincerely respects the shrine as something like a heart of the country, then it's almost scary to have such a fanatic as our leader (especially with such popularity). I simply do not understand what he is thinking - is it a matter of generation gap, or am I a minority? He by no means represents my thoughts, and I regret to have no other choice but him as our representative.
A.K., Hiroshima, Japan

For those who say they "don't see what the fuss is all about" do not understand the tragedy, feelings etc of the peoples in Asia who had suffered at the bloody hands of the Japanese in WW2. By visiting the war shrine, the Japanese politicians are tacitly signalling that they still support the policies adopted in WW2 by their militarists; the Japanese are very "symbolic" in their actions and such visits to the war shrine are therefore very meaningful in this regard. Unlike the Germans who have long realistically and sincerely regretted their past misdeeds, the Japanese plainly have not.
John Lee, Singapore

Japan has yet to come to grips with the crimes committed by its soldiers and government in WWII. Until Japan fully confronts its ugly past and show genuine remorse, the paying of respects to its fallen soldiers by Koizumi is premature and serves only to glorify Japan's wars, justify its dangerous nationalistic ideologies and inflame the senses of its neighbours and past victims of war.
Michael, Canada

Japan/Japanese - whether public or official have every right to visit the shrine. I haven't heard of from those Koreans who chopped off their fingers or Chinese complaining about the hundreds of billions of financial aid or technology transfers from Japan to South East Asia.
Athula Wilson, UK

I really do not see what all the fuss is about

Dan, USA
I really do not see what all the fuss is about. Every country involved in the Second World War has built memorials to their war dead. I guess only the winners of war are allowed to memorialise their dead. Even war criminals were doing what they did for their country. I say, remember all the war dead, so we don't have to do any more world wars.
Dan, USA

To answer Richard, who asked: "Has Japan ever built a memorial for the thousands of POWs killed by their captors?", I can answer "No". In many cases, the private companies who used the PoWs as slave labour refuse even to admit that they "employed" PoWs. One day a Japanese prime minister might earn the right to visit Yasukuni when he (or perhaps more likely she) rectifies the gross misunderstanding of WWII in this country.
Steve Cassidy, Japan

There are several articles supporting Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine. But none of them seem to understand what the visit by the Prime Minister means to the victims of war crimes carried out by Japan. If he wants to pay homage to these people who died for Japan, he also must accept Japan's responsibility for the deaths of millions of Koreans and Asians who were forced to work for the country and were killed off during the World War II.
Hankooknamja, Lee, The Republic of Korea

Mr Koizumi has every right to visit a shine honouring the Japanese fallen

Oliver Hamilton, UK
Mr Koizumi has every right to visit a shine honouring the Japanese fallen. They had loved ones too, loved ones who shed tears like we did for our brave soldiers. The young Japanese who fought didn't all commit war crimes - the majority were probably young men fighting for their country, their beliefs (even if they were radically different from our own) and also very scared. If we are to scrutinise their POW camps and death rates we should also remind ourselves of the Boor war and our concentration camps. How can we also complain about military aggression when we had a global empire of our own?
Oliver Hamilton, UK

Every country on this planet uses nationalism. Just see how China manipulates its people. The Japanese are not capable of, and this world won't allow, repeating its mistakes done 50 years ago. How long should it take before those neighbours stop telling Japan what to do on this date??
Hank Liaw, Taiwan

Yes, he was right to go. Ordinary Japanese families lost their loved ones in this war. Of course, the war was wrong, but that does not mean that people who have died for their country should not be honoured and remembered. I am always surprised to see the scale of remembrance in the UK and US (compared to Germany, which of course and luckily lost the war), so why should Japan not at least be allowed this gesture?
Kurt Pertsch, Germany

How can other countries ask Japan not to honour their own dead?

Jerry McConnell, USA
Koizumi is right to go - he should honour those who died for their country. Too many people want revenge - not justice. How can other countries ask Japan not to honour their own dead? Someone please show me a world power that didn't get there without subjugating (the civilised way of saying "killing") someone else. This self-righteousness gets a little old. Like the Good Book says about casting the first stone...
Jerry McConnell, USA

Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni shrine caused breaking of mutual peace and trust between Korea and Japan. It is all Japan's responsibility to recover our peace and trust. I hope Japanese citizens wake up and get Koizumi out as Prime Minister. War criminals must not be respected for Our Justice.
Yi, The Republic of Korea

It is simply a good thing to give prayers for the war dead in general. But it is absolutely not right for the prime minister to do so in a shrine where A class war criminals are honoured, in a country where the politics and religion are separated according to the constitution. Moreover, it is stupid to do the same thing again when we know two other prime ministers did it and miserably failed to shut up everybody in the past. Koizumi had repeatedly said before he was carefully considering and listening to various people's opinions, but obviously he only compromised on going to the shrine on 13th but did not learn anything essential! I wonder how much precious time was wasted for all this.
Hisashi, Japan

Why half of the Japanese population support the visit? This is because their education system glorifies their invasion and rationalises the colonisation of Asian countries. Until the Japanese textbooks are correctly telling the history, Japan will be regarded as a barbaric conquering tribal nation.

I don't support what he did even if it was his compromise choice

Masanori, Japan
I don't support what he did even if it was his compromise choice. But look back what the great powers did in all of the world. Is that allowed? Almost all conflicts or wars nowadays are caused by their occupation. I know we human beings can never change history.
Masanori, Japan

What is the difference between 13th and 15th of August to other Asian countries? There is a difference for understanding the remembrance day between the Japanese, and Chinese and Korean people. Japanese people regard the day as the defeat day by America. On the other hand, it seems to me that Chinese and Korean people remember the day as the victory-over-Japan day.

Even though Mr Koizumi changed the date of his visit to earlier than he had intended to, China and Korea do not seem to regard the change of date as a sincere attitude towards them. If he himself believed that the visit to the Shinto shrine would be a gesture to honour all the people who died during the war, there would have been other ways for him to show his promise and idea for keeping permanent peace in Asia. There were not only Japanese people killed in the war - a large number of Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Thai and Malay people died by the Japanese invasion of those countries.
Dr Tetsuo Ogawa, Oxford, UK

The problem goes far beyond the visit itself

Yubaraj Pandey, Nepal
The problem goes far beyond the visit itself. This is a gesture of something more serious and dangerous. The government of China and Korea are against the visit. It is objectionable.
Yubaraj Pandey, Nepal

Pot calling the kettle black. Every country has carried out some injustice against its own citizens or neighbours. Forcing Japan to acknowledge its past crimes whilst conveniently glossing over our own errors is nothing but hypocrisy. It is always easier to point the finger at others whilst ignoring our own flaws and past.
Adam, Earth

Whether Koizumi ended up going to Yasukuni Shrine or not, there were always going to be people opposed. What's not reported in the press is the reason for his visit. He didn't go there to honour war criminals, he went there to remember the war dead - the 15/16-year-old kids that were sent off on bombing missions without landing gears, young men that were forced into the war. While I thoroughly respect the feelings of Asian neighbours, I also believe that the foreign (non-Japanese) media have misunderstood this visit. However, I also believe it is time for Japan to face the past. It must own up and teach its children the correct history. Unfortunately this has not been done, purely evident in the recent history textbook saga.
Ciaran, Japan

Yes, Prime Minister of Japan should have gone to Shrine

Omot Ojulu, Sudanese in USA
Yes, prime minister of Japan should have gone to Shrine. What Japan did in all Asian countries is less than what Britain and the United States did to the people round the globe. British colonised half the world and slaughtered many people who resisted their attempt to steal their lands. United States sold Africans for three centuries and totally annexed the native Indians who lived here at the time. United States and British never apologise for these backward acts. So, it is perfectly ok for Japanese government to honour its dead.
Omot Ojulu, Sudanese in United States

If Japanese government can learn a little bit from Germany, Chinese will forgive whatever Japanese did before. However, maybe many people cannot believe; Japanese government never regrets publicly to Chinese. On the contrary, they insist say that it is Japan that helped Asians by fighting the westerners.
Wang, USA/China

1000,000 Koreans were forced to be captured by Japanese army, and killed and injured. Remember the history of the evil war by Japanese army! To go to the Japanese army shrine is same as to go to the German Hitler.
YoungKan Kim, Korea

I applaud Mr. Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni. For too long the entire Japanese people have been expected to suffer and repent for deeds that fewer and fewer people alive today have any direct knowledge of. This issue is a question for the 20th century. It has and will continue to have a lessening meaning in the 21st. Asking Mr. Koizumi to stay away due to the constitutional separation of church and state would be like insisting that Mr. Blair or Mr. Bush become agnostics and stay away from their churches while they hold their high offices. He has only done what is in keeping with centuries of Japanese traditions. And as leader of the nation of Japan he should be more concerned with his own people's feelings than any other nations.
Jim, Japan

At the very least, this is highly insensitive, non-conciliatory and a grave diplomatic blunder

Russell W, Japan
Although I believe Mr Koizumi's intentions were sincere - that he simply wished, as an individual, to pay his respects to Japanese soldiers sacrificed in WWII (surely any citizen's right) it is simply not possible for a prime minister to do so at a place where the instigators of wartime atrocities are enshrined. At the very least, this is highly insensitive, non-conciliatory and a grave diplomatic blunder.
Russell W, Japan

Reflecting on the comment that Japan should have a memorial to the dead POW's then the same should be said of the British who were quite blasÚ about herding Boer woman and children as well as their labourers into concentration camps. But what would that achieve now?
FC, South Africa

In spite of the visit, I believe the issue does not lie at the visit itself. It goes right inside the blood stream of human beings whose forbears were ill-treated by the Japanese soldiers during the WWII. However, I also believe each human being has to learn to forgive the crime that one has done. Without which the crime will be condemned all the times throughout generations. When I choose to forgive, I release the wrongdoer into the freedom of my forgiveness. As far as I am concerned, I would allow the Almighty God to speak to the person.
Hong Kheng Ong, Malaysia

Living in Singapore, the number of people born after World War II who still bear much acrimonious hate and ill will against Japan for the atrocities committed during the war is quite unbelievable. Simply visiting a shrine of such significance truly reflects the way Japan has never apologised for its crimes during the war. It is comparable to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visiting a Neo-Nazi shrine on a Holocaust Memorial day. Until Japan can fully recognise its crimes committed during the war, this visit can only serve to inflame an intense hatred of Japan in the minds of many Asians.
Jason Ho, Singapore

The Japanese were the aggressors in WW II. They started the war and caused lots of trouble for the USA and its allies. It is time America stopped catering to these people who start wars and then complain about the end results. All we have heard from the Japanese is how rough they had it. What these people ought to do is to work for peace and they will have peace. Yes, the war is over. But, Japan owes the United States an apology for what they did at Pearl Harbour.
Dave Adams, USA

I am deeply disturbed by Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine and the recent upsurge of right-wing nationalist sentiment in Japan by which it was inspired. The recent textbook rows, disputes last year over the compulsory singing of the national anthem and hoisting of flags in schools, and the noisy right-wing propagandists who regularly drive round towns shouting out their nationalist slogans over loud-speakers - these are just the more obvious elements of the problem.

There is no reason why the Japanese cannot put the war behind them and learn to feel pride in their substantial post-war achievements. However, they must first acknowledge and come to terms with their history, rather than trying to sweep it under the carpet. They must acknowledge that the euphemistically named (and, incidentally, completely unconstitutional) "Self-defence Forces" are really a de facto army, and they must recognize that they have no more claim to being peaceful than any other country in the world. Finally they should drop the misunderstood victim/martyr stance and take responsibility for what previous generations of Japanese did. Only then can they feel true pride and confidence in their nation. The truth shall set you free.
Rebecca, Japan

Take a look at the Yasukuni Shrine website, in which it is claimed that Japan went to war "to defend the independence of the nation as well as the peace of Asia". Since when did "defending the peace of Asia" include invading China and Korea and torturing/ slaughtering their citizens?! Those who read Japanese are likely to be even more shocked by the extreme revisionist right-wing drivel on the Japanese pages which defends the "so-called class A war criminals", denies that the Korean comfort women were used as sex slaves and claims that the government should ignore Chinese opposition to the prime minister's visit because it is an issue of Japanese culture which the Chinese could not possibly understand.

The prime minister of any country should be deeply ashamed of associating his name with an institution of this nature, but we must not forget that half of his cabinet and the general public also supported this visit. The Japanese should be educated about their past, and the world should keep an eye on Japan as history could just repeat itself.
Lucy, Japan

I am not sure now if every Japanese prime minister after the Second World War officially apologized or not, but recent prime ministers and the emperor have apologized in many occasions and the government has paid a huge amount of compensation to a lot of countries including those which did not directly fight a war against Japan. I would also like to point out that as far as I know no European country which had colonized Africa and some areas of Asia has apologized yet nor paid any compensation for colonization. Some countries even took money from the colonized in exchange for independence.
Char Aznable, Japan

Asians and Western leaders should remember that Koizumi is in fact the moderate face of Japan's ruling party! He alone can tackle the economic problems that could drag the world into depression. With that demagogue Gov. Shintaro Ishihara of Tokyo waiting in the wings, the alternative for Japan and Asia is too horrible to contemplate. The international community must support Koizumi, in spite of this crass stunt.
George, Japan, ex-UK

People will respond badly from the justified pain and loss, which they feel towards the Japanese of World War II. However ignoring or forgetting that the Japanese suffered pain or loss of loved ones, soldiers as well as civilians. While cultural and social beliefs make it mandatory for soldiers to fight in the manner that their leaders deem acceptable, as they do today. It is usually only the victorious that decide who was wrong and who may be a war criminal, almost never finding one on their own side, only heroes.

As the head of state, Koizumi is right to honour Japan's soldiers and war dead, as all countries do. It is regrettable that some of those buried there, where without honour, as can be found in any country's hallowed cemetery. But it should not be reason to stop him from paying respect for those who died with honour. However he should also do the honourable thing afterwards, and apologize to those who suffered or where victimized by Japanese imperialism of the past.
J. Wagner, USA

If he showed a little respect for China and Korea then he shouldn't have gone. These countries suffered very hard under the reign of some of the "soldiers" that are buried there and that Koizumi paid tribute to. Of course there are also a lot of low-rank soldiers enshrined there who were also victims of war and deserve to be prayed for but Koizumi clearly didn't come to pray for the soul of these soldiers. If you know a little of Japanese politics than you should know that he only went there to make the ultra right-wing guys in his government feel happy and to boost Japanese national pride especially in hard economic times when the Japanese people have few things to be proud of.
Peter De Wolf, Japan

Politically it was very destructive

Jason Stevens, USA
At first glance it seemed to be an honourable thing to do. However, politically it was very destructive. For instance you never see American presidents visit Confederate war memorials, even though millions of American citizens do year after year. As a leader of a country you have the responsibility of representing your entire country when things are done on an official basis. Officially visiting a war memorial that contains the soldiers of Nanking, Manchuria, and Korea is just wrong!
Jason Stevens, USA

Having lived and worked in Japan for 6 years, 3 within the state education system, I would comment that the issue of the visit is looked upon from a completely different perspective by the public at large here in Japan. Japanese people in general, unlike many sections of the German public, are unaware of any 'factual' information about WWII and their country's role within it, indeed it is still very much a taboo subject. Until the education system here is significantly revised, the Japanese public should not be negatively judged for their open support of the visit, despite condemnation from many of their Asian neighbours.
James L, Japan

I'll admit I am not aware of all the facts here. However, has Japan ever built a memorial for the thousands of POWs killed by their captors? If not, why not build one now? If there is one why can the Japanese PM not visit it too?
Richard, UK

As the Japanese Head of State, I feel it proper for Mr Koizumi to visit the shrine of remembrance of their war dead. All Heads of States in countries around the world do just that, it is proper and in keeping with other nations. In looking back, we can then begin to look to the present and to the future. Here in Australia the whole nation turns out on ANZAC Day, along with New Zealand to remember the war dead.
David Butler, Australia

A visit to a Shinto shrine in an official capacity by a standing Prime Minister clearly violates the Japanese constitution

Rob, Maine, USA
This issue goes beyond the question of Japan's (near total lack of) contrition vis-Ó-vis the Second World War. Japan's constitution calls for separation of church and state; consequently, a visit to a Shinto shrine in an official capacity by a standing Prime Minister clearly violates the Japanese constitution. It is important to bear in mind that state Shinto, with its fanatical worship of a deified emperor, was one of the driving forces in Japan's attempt to conquer Asia.
Rob, Maine, USA

The soldiers of Japan probably believed that what they were doing was right and was their duty, just as all soldiers of other countries did. War is a nasty brutal business and the idea of 'rules' seems crazy. I expect all sides committed acts which could be called criminal but the soldiers who committed them were brave and prepared to die for what they thought was right. We cannot condone their actions but I think it right to respect their bravery and sacrifice. I hope that is what Koizumi was doing.
Andrew Carter, UK

What is the problem, do we not have Remembrance Sunday in the UK and shrines to the glorious dead throughout the Western World.
Gerry, Scotland

He is right to honour the dead

Rachel Horner, UK
He is right to honour the dead. At the end of the day these soldiers were only doing what their country said was right to do at the time. They died for their people. All war is horrid and at the end of the day there are no winners...only losers.
Rachel Horner, UK

Oh yes, he's definitely right to make the visit. Yasukuni Jinja has longed been hi-jacked by the right wing. In the forthcoming "o-bon" (festival of the dead) season, thousands of big intimidating trucks painted in the regalia of the far right will fill the streets surrounding the shrine, laying their own emphasis on its significance. I believe that Koizumi has the opportunity to reclaim the shrine for the moderate majority in Japan, who really should have a focal point at which they can remember those of their number who have died in war. I hope that is how he will use the occasion this year and in future years.
Andi-Tsuyoshi Williams, Japan

Has to be no doesn't it? Otherwise it condones what happened.
Keith, Switzerland

Soldiers of all nations fight for the cause that leaders see as right at the time

James Crosby, Telford, UK
Soldiers of all nations fight for the cause that leaders see as right at the time. Generally it is the victors that decide who is a war criminal and they almost invariably find none on their own side. I believe that Koizumi is right to honour Japan's war dead. The graves of, and monuments to, the dead of all sides should be treated with the utmost respect by all parties. In Austria and Germany the people have quite rightly erected proud and very well cared for monuments to their dead, and they have as much right to be proud of their troops as we have. As long as Koizumi doesn't use the visit as a platform for nationalistic posturing he should be respected for having the courage to honour his country's dead in this way.
James Crosby, Telford, UK

Convicted war criminals should never have been buried beside "regular soldiers". Would it be appropriate for the German Chancellor to pay his respects at a graveyard with Nazi war criminals buried within? I don't think so. So the answer is NO he should have stayed away.
Michael Gahan, Ireland

The problem is far beyond the visit itself. This is a gesture of something more serious and dangerous. The Japanese government has never admitted to war crimes and apologised to other Asian countries. It is of great concern to many peace loving people that the whole atmosphere and the government's attitude are so similar to that in Germany before World War II. Ironically, the behaviour of the Japanese government has been encouraged by the American for their own interests.
Anthony, Peterborough, UK

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Outrage at Koizumi war shrine visit
05 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi 'will visit war shrine'
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
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