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Japanese Party Softening Anti-War Shrine Stance

Posted August. 17, 2009 08:12,   


The Democratic Party of Japan has deleted from its policy paper this year a clause saying, “Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are incompatible with the principle of separation of politics and religion under the Constitution,” the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun said yesterday.

The party had cited the clause as the reason for its opposition to visits to the war shrine.

Since the Japanese Constitution bans the government and state agencies from taking part in religious activities, the prime minister’s visits to the shrine, a religious facility, has been a cause of controversy. Hence, the party had claimed that visiting the shrine is unconstitutional.

Yet the party seems to have deleted the clause due to the stance of certain members that if the party wins in the upcoming general elections, the clause will run counter to the conventional stance of the government, which granted conditional approval for such visits.

Referring to the prime minister’s visit to the shrine in August 2001, the party at the time said, "Since the shrine includes a general memorial place of Class-A war criminals, (an official visit) is tantamount to denial of atonement for the past war and violates Article 20 of the Constitution, which specifies the principle of separation of politics from religion."

The party has since retained the clause in its annual policy paper, but deleted the section on the Constitution from this year’s edition released last month.

Party leader Yukio Hatoyama has pledged not to visit the shrine if he becomes prime minister. On why he opposes such visits in a recent news conference, he only mentioned the general memorial of Class-A war criminals and stopped short of saying a visit to the shrine violates the Constitution.

Tokyo since 1985 has granted conditional approval for the prime minister’s visits to Yasukuni. It judged that taking a small bow before the main building and shrine does not constitute a religious activity as banned by the Constitution in light of common sense and social practice. This was what Prime Minister Yashiro Nakasone heard from an advisory organization before visiting the shrine as his country’s leader for the first time.

Under this circumstance, the Democratic Party has apparently judged that if it stubbornly insists on the unconstitutionality of such visits, it could face a burden in administration due to increased attention from the Diet and media after gaining power.

The party also has a number of senior politicians who support visiting the shrine.

More than 30 lawmakers belonging to a group of “legislators who pay respects at the Yasukuni Shrine” visited it Saturday, along with former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe. Consumer Affairs Minister Noda Seiko was the only incumbent Cabinet member among the visitors.