Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社 or 靖國神社, Yasukuni Jinja?) is a Shinto shrine located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. It is dedicated to the soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. Currently, its Symbolic Registry of Divinities lists the names of over 2,466,000 enshrined men and women whose lives were dedicated to the service of Imperial Japan, particularly to those killed in wartime. It also houses one of the few Japanese war museums dedicated to World War II. There are also commemorative statues to mothers and animals who sacrificed in the war.

Yasukuni is a shrine to house the actual souls of the dead as kami, or "spirits/souls" as loosely defined in English. It is believed that all negative or evil acts committed are absolved when enshrinement occurs. This activity is strictly a religious matter since the separation of State Shinto and the Japanese government in 1945. The priesthood at the shrine has complete religious autonomy to decide to whom and how enshrinement may occur. They believe that enshrinement is permanent and irreversible. According to Shinto beliefs, by enshrining kami, Yasukuni Shrine provides a permanent residence for the spirits of those who have fought on behalf of the emperor. Yasukuni has all enshrined kami occupying the same single seat. The shrine is dedicated to give peace and rest to all those enshrined there. It was the only place to which the Emperor of Japan bowed.


The site for the Yasukuni Shrine, originally named Tōkyō Shōkonsha (東京招魂社?) was chosen by order of the Meiji Emperor. This shrine was to commemorate the soldiers of the Boshin War who fought and died to bring about the Meiji Restoration. It was one of several dozen war memorial shrines built throughout Japan at that time as part of the government-directed State Shinto program. In 1879, the shrine was renamed Yasukuni Jinja. It became one of State Shinto's principal shrines, as well as the primary national shrine for commemorating Japan's war dead. The name Yasukuni, quoted from the phrase 「吾以靖国也」 in the classical-era Chinese text Zuo Zhuan (Scroll 6, 23rd Year of Duke Xi), literally means "Pacifying the Nation" and was chosen by the Meiji Emperor. The name is formally written as 靖國神社, using obsolete (pre-war) kyūjitai character forms.

After World War II, the US-led Occupation Authorities issued the Shinto Directive. This directive ordered the separation of church and state and effectively put an end to State Shinto. Yasukuni Shrine was forced to become either a secular government institution or a religious institution independent from the Japanese government. People decided that the shrine would become a privately funded religious institution. Since that decision in 1946, Yasukuni Shrine has continued to be privately funded and operated.

Shinto rites are performed at the shrine, which, according to Shinto belief, houses the kami, or spirits, of all Japanese, former colonial subjects (Korean and Taiwanese) and civilians who died in service of the emperor while participating (forced or willing) in the nation's conflicts prior to 1951.

Annual celebrations

January 1: Shinnensai (New Year's Festival)

February 11: Kenkoku Kinensai (National Foundation Day)—Anniversary of the day on which Japan's first Emperor, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have founded the Japanese nation.

February 17: Kinensai (Spring Festival for Harvest)

April 21–23: Shunki Reitaisai (Annual Spring Festival)

April 29: Showasai (Showa Festival)—Emperor Showa's birthday

June 29: Gosoritsu Kinenbisai (Founding Day) Commemoration of the founding of Yasukuni Jinja

July 13–16: Mitama Matsuri—A mid-summer celebration of the spirits of the ancestors. The entry walk is decorated with 40 foot high walls of 29000 or more lanterns, and thousands of visitors come to pay respects to their lost relatives and friends.

October 17–20: Shuki Reitaisai (Annual Autumn Festival)

November 3: Meijisai (Emperor Meiji's Birthday)

November 23: Niinamesai (Festival of First Fruits)

December 23: Tenno gotanshin Hoshukusai (Birthday of the Current Emperor)

The first, 11th and 21st day of each month: Tukinamisai

Every day: Asa Mikesai, Yu Mikesai, Eitai Kagurasai (perpetual Kagura festivals)

Enshrined kami

There are over 2,466,000 enshrined kami currently listed in the Yasukuni's Symbolic Registry of Divinities. This list includes soldiers, as well as women and students who were involved in relief operations in the battlefield or worked in factories for the war effort. Enshrinement is not exclusive to people of Japanese descent. Currently, Yasukuni Shrine has enshrined 27,863 Taiwanese and 21,181 Koreans without consultation of surviving family members and in some cases against the stated wishes of the family members. There are numerous enshrined kami who died at Chinreisha.

Eligible categories

As a general rule, the enshrined are limited to military personnel who were killed while serving Japan during armed conflicts. Civilians who were killed during a war are not included, apart from a handful of exceptions. A deceased must fall into one of the following categories for enshrinement:

Although new names of soldiers killed during World War II are added to the shrine list every year, no one who was killed due to conflicts after Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty that formally ended WW2 in 1951 has been qualified for enshrinement. Therefore, the shrine does not include members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces which was established after the peace treaty.

Enshrinement is carried out unilaterally by the shrine. Some families from foreign countries such as South Korea have requested that their relatives be delisted on the grounds that enshrining someone against their beliefs in life constitutes an infringement of the Constitution. The Yasukuni priesthood, however, has stated that once a kami is enshrined, it has been 'merged' with the other kami occupying the same seat and therefore cannot be separated.

Kami by conflict

Japan has participated in ten other conflicts since the Boshin War in 1869. The following table chronologically lists the number of kami enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine (as of October 17, 2004) from each of these conflicts.

The Yasukuni shrine does not include the Tokugawa shogunate's forces (particularly from the Aizu domain) or rebel forces who died during the Boshin War or Satsuma Rebellion because they are considered enemies of the emperor. They are enshrined at Chinreisha. This exclusion, which includes the ancestors of former Chief Priest Toshiaki Nanbu (2004–2009), is deeply resented in both areas.


There are a multitude of facilities within the 6.25 hectare grounds of the shrine, as well as several structures along the 4 hectare causeway. Though other shrines in Japan also occupy large areas, Yasukuni is different because of its recent historical connections. The Yūshūkan museum is just the feature that differentiate Yasukuni from other Shinto shrines. The following lists describe many of these facilities and structures.

Shrine structures

On the shrine grounds, there are several important religious structures. The shrine's haiden, Yasukuni's main prayer hall where worshipers come to pray, was originally built in 1901 in order to allow patrons to pay their respects and make offerings. This building's roof was renovated in 1989. The white screens hanging off the ceiling are changed to purple ones on ceremonial occasions.

The honden is the main shrine where Yasukuni's enshrined kami reside. Built in 1872 and refurbished in 1989, it is where the shrine's priests perform Shinto rituals. The building is generally closed to the public.

The building located directly behind the honden to the east is known as the Reijibo Hōanden (霊璽簿奉安殿?). It houses the Symbolic Registry of Divinities (霊璽簿, Reijibo?)—a handmade Japanese paper document that lists the names of all the kami enshrined and worshiped at Yasukuni Shrine. It was built of quakeproof concrete in 1972 with a private donation from Emperor Hirohito.

In addition to Yasukuni's main shrine buildings, there are also two peripheral shrines located on the precinct. Motomiya (元宮?) is a small shrine that was first established in Kyoto by sympathizers of the imperial loyalists that were killed during the early weeks of the civil war that erupted during the Meiji Restoration. Seventy years later, in 1931, it was moved directly south of Yasukuni Shrine's honden. Its name, Motomiya ("Original Shrine"), references the fact that it was essentially a prototype for the current Yasukuni Shrine. The second peripheral shrine is the Chinreisha. This small shrine was constructed in 1965, directly south of the Motomiya. It is dedicated to those not enshrined in the honden—those killed by wars or incidents worldwide, regardless of nationality. It has a festival on July 13.

There is a temizuya; main purification font. The temizuya is called as Ōtemizusha (大手水舎?). Ōtemizusha was established in 1940.

Torii and gates

There are several different torii and gates located on both the causeway and shrine grounds. When moving through the grounds from east to west, the first torii visitors encounter is the Daiichi Torii. This large steel structure was the largest torii in Japan when it was first erected in 1921 to mark the main entrance to the shrine. It stands approximately 25 meters tall and 34 meters wide and is the first torii. The current iteration of this torii was erected in 1974 after the original was removed in 1943 due to weather damage.

The Daini Torii is the second torii encountered on the westward walk to the shrine. It was erected in 1887 to replace a wooden one which had been erected earlier. This is the largest bronze torii in Japan. Immediately following the Daini Torii is the shinmon. A 6-meter tall hinoki cypress gate, it was first built in 1934 and restored in 1994. Each of its two doors bears a Chrysanthemum Crest measuring 1.5 meters in diameter. West of this gate is the Chumon Torii, the last torii visitors must pass underneath before reaching Yasukuni's haiden. It was recently rebuilt of cypress harvested in Saitama Prefecture in 2006.

In addition to the three torii and one gate that lead to the main shrine complex, there are a few others that mark other entrances to the shrine grounds. The Ishi Torii is a large stone torii located on the south end of the main causeway. It was erected in 1932 and marks the entrance to the parking lots. The Kitamon and Minamimon are two areas that mark the north and south entrances, respectively, into the Yasukuni Shrine complex. The Minamimon is marked by a small wooden gateway.

  • Statue of War Widow: This statue honors all mothers who were forced to raise children in the absence of their husbands who were killed in war. It was donated to the shrine in 1974 by these mothers' children.
  • Statue of Kamikaze Pilot: A bronze statue representing a kamikaze pilot stands to the left of the Yūshūkan's entrance. A small plaque to the left of the statue donated by the Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association in 2005 details the 5,843 men who died while executing attacks for the Tokkōtai.
  • Statues of Dog, Horse & Carrier Pigeon: These three life-sized bronze statues were all donated at different times during the second half of the 20th century. The first of the three that was donated, the horse statue was placed at Yasukuni Shrine in 1958 to honor the memory of the horses that served in the Japanese military. Presented in 1982, this statue depicting a pigeon atop a globe honors homing pigeons used by the military. The last statue, donated in March 1992, depicts a German shepherd and honors the soldiers' canine comrades. Opened, full bottles of water are often left at these statues.
  • Statue of Ōmura Masujirō: Created by Okuma Ujihiro in 1893, this statue is Japan's first Western-style bronze statue. It honors Ōmura Masujirō, a man who is known as the "Father of the Modern Japanese Army."
  • Irei no Izumi: This modern looking monument is a spring dedicated to those who suffered from or died of thirst in battle.
  • Monument of Justice Radha Binod Pal: This newer monument was erected at Yasukuni Shrine in 2005. It honours Indian judge Radha Binod Pal, the lone justice on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East's trials of Japanese war crimes committed during World War II to find all the defendants not guilty. On April 29, 2005, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his counterpart Koizumi Junichiro that "the dissenting judgement of Justice Radha Binod Pal is well-known to the Japanese people and will always symbolise the affection and regard our people have for your country."
Other buildings and structures
  • Yūshūkan: Originally built in 1882, this museum is located to the north of the main hall. Its name is taken from a saying -- "a virtuous man always selects to associate with virtuous people." The museum houses the sacralized weaponry of the Imperial Japanese Navy, including a Zero Fighter plane and Kaiten suicide torpedo. It glorifies sacrifice and bravery, and like most war museums makes little mention of human suffering on both sides. The former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has had to clarify in the Diet that Yūshūkan's interpretation of history differs to that of the government due to its nationalistic interpretations of the war.
  • Dove Cote: Almost 300 white doves live and are bred in a special dove cote located on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine.
  • Shinchi Teien: This Japanese style strolling garden was created in the early Meiji Era. Its centerpiece is a small waterfall located in a serene pond. It was refurbished in 1999.
  • Sumo Ring: In 1869, a sumo wrestling exhibition was held at Yasukuni Shrine in order to celebrate the shrine's establishment. Since then, exhibitions involving many professional sumo wrestlers, including several grand champions (yokozuna) take place at the Spring Festival almost every year. The matches are free of charge.
  • Nōgaku-den: Noh plays were first presented on the Shrine premises in 1878. The support of Empress Dowager Eishō and Empress Consort Haruko (now known as (Empress Shōken) ensured a permanent home for Noh at Yasukuni.
Enshrinement of war criminals

One of the controversies arises out of the enshrinement of World War II war criminals. In 1959, the kami of 1,068 Class-B and -C war criminals who had been executed after being sentenced to death by the military tribunals of the Allied Forces were enshrined at Yasukuni. However, according to documents released by the National Diet Library of Japan in 2007, Health and Welfare Ministry officials and Yasukuni representatives officially met to discuss the eligibility of the war criminals more than nine years later, on January 31, 1969. After the meeting, the Shrine and Ministry officials agreed that all "are eligible" for enshrinement according to the extant rules; the officials then decided to withhold information relating to the criminals' enshrinement in order to avoid controversy. In 1978, the kami of 14 persons who had been executed or imprisoned as Class-A war criminals by IMTFE were enshrined at Yasukuni. According to a memorandum released in 2006 by Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Tomohiko Tomita, the presence of enshrined Class-A war criminals (such as Hideki Tōjō) at Yasukuni was the reason Emperor Hirohito refused to visit the shrine from 1978 until his death in 1989. Since the enshrinements, there have been calls from some groups of people to remove the war criminals from Yasukuni Shrine. Shrine officials have stated that unlike traditional Shinto shrines, all enshrined kami are immediately combined and inseparable, and therefore impossible to "remove". There has been no move to separate the enshrinements.


Yasukuni Shrine operates a museum of the history of Japan called the Yūshūkan, which honours Japanese war heroes. Although the Yūshūkan displays items relating to earlier military conflicts, such as the Meiji Restoration and the Satsuma Rebellion, the museum focuses primarily on the events surrounding World War II. The museum has been criticized as presenting a revisionist interpretation of World War II. The museum highlights heroic war stories and kamikaze pilots, but does not mention atrocities. The museum depicts Japan as an Asian liberator, provoked into war by European and U.S. officials, who choked the incoming supply of raw materials to the resource-poor nation. Some believe that the museum is unapologetic of Japanese colonialism and nationalism, and is a reminder that Japan has been slow to apologize for wartime atrocities.

Political visits

One of the central controversies of the shrine is the personal visits by Japanese politicians. There have been many visits including numerous politicians, and heads of state including several prime ministers. Many in the international and Asian community see this as support for or complicity with Japanese nationalism, and denial of the events of World War II. The politicians themselves see this as paying respect to the over two million war dead of Japan from several wars, done on personal time. In 2005, President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, stated that praying for all people is right.

A visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in August 2001 was widely reported in Chinese media and led to popular anger among Chinese youths. In September 2001, Koizumi met with China's President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji and agreed to make a symbolic trip to the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing to honor Chinese soldiers killed during the Second Sino-Japanese war. When Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine again in the spring of 2002 it led to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Several notable foreign political figures have visited the shrine.

  • President Emeritus of Harvard University Charles William Eliot visited on July 10, 1913.
  • Major General Nathaniel Walter Barnardiston of the British Army visited on December 14, 1914.
  • Marshal of France Joseph Joffre visited on January 21, 1922.
  • Crown Prince of Romania Carol II visited on July 7, 1920.
  • Edward, Prince of Wales visited on April 18, 1922.
  • Crown Prince of Sweden Gustaf VI Adolf visited on September 12, 1926.
  • Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester visited on May 5, 1929.
  • Crown Prince of Denmark Frederick IX visited on March 18, 1930.
  • Prince of Siam Rama VI visited on November 21, 1930.
  • Prince of Sweden Carl visited on November 21, 1930.
  • Charles Lindbergh visited on August 27, 1931.
  • President of the Republic of China Legislative Yuan Chang Tao-fan visited on April 19, 1956.
  • Former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu visited on March 23, 1960.
  • President of Argentina Arturo Frondizi visited on December 15, 1961.
  • King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej visited on June 4, 1963.
  • Italian Minister of Defence Giulio Andreotti visited on October 7, 1964.
  • Former Emperor of Vietnam Bảo Đại visited on February 14, 1973.
  • King of Tonga Taufa'ahau Tupou IV visited in November, 1973.
  • The 14th Dalai Lama visited on November 1, 1981.
  • Prime Minister of Lithuania Adolfas Šleževičius visited on September 21, 1993.
  • Prashanto Pal, the son of the Justice Radhabinod Pal visited on April 26, 1995.
  • Former Minister of Finance of Indonesia Rizal Ramli visited in 2002.
  • Former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori visited on April 10, 2002.
  • United States Forces Japan Yokota Air Base Officers Association visited in 2002.
  • Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Allan Kemakeza visited on July 10, 2005.
  • Former President of the Republic of China Lee Teng-hui visited on October 27, 2007.
  • French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen visited on August 14, 2010.
  • Vlaams Belang Member of the European Parliament Philip Claeys visited on August 14, 2010.

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