If there is one shrine in Japan that is controversial, it’s Yasukuni Shrine.
For those not familiar with Yasukuni Shrine, since 1869, the shrine is where people go to honor the souls of those who died in service of Japan.
Known back in 1869 as Shokonsha, it was renamed Yasukini Shrine in 1879 by Emperor Meiji who visited the shrine in 1874.
According to the Yasukuni Shrine website:
Currently, more than 2,466,000 divinities are enshrined here at Yasukuni Shrine. These are souls of men who made ultimate sacrifice for their nation since 1853 during national crisis such as the Boshin War, the Seinan War, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, World War I, the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident and the Greater East Asian War (World War II). These people, regardless of their rank or social standing, are considered to be completely equal and worshipped as venerable divinities of Yasukuni.
The controversy about Yasukuni Shrine is that those included are about thousand war criminals, including Class A War Criminals of World War II.
These were people who were convicted and executed and were responsible for Japan’s sadistic, horrendously cruel crimes.
And the more you research the subject, the more you can understand the controversy and why it makes some Japanese and travelers wanting to stay far from it. It’s a hotly debated topic, even when a Prime Minister goes to visit the shrine. Even a conservative group was asking for 14 Class A War Criminals to be separated from other war dead souls enshrined at Yasukuni.
The 14 war criminals were secretly added to the list of souls honored at Yasukuni by shrine priests in 1978, which reflected the beliefs at the time that they were patriots. In 1979, Emperor Hirohito protested by refusing to visit Yasukuni Shrine and the boycott continues today with his son, Emperor Akihito.
NOTE: None of the war dead honored at the shrine are buried there, the site is is known for enshrining their souls under Shinto belief.
For me and a few friends who went by Yasukuni Shrine, because of time, we only were willing to see the gates and statues and not enter the main gate entrance to the shrine, as we had to leave to meet a friend in Yokohama.
If anything, during the morning, we just wanted to see the Daiichi Torii (the first shrine gate) which was first built in 1921. The gate is Japan’s largest shrine gate. Because the gate received a lot of damage by wind and rain, it was removed in 1943. The current gate was devoted in 1974 and is 25 meters high.
After the first gate is the statue of Omura Masujiro (1824-1869), the founder of the modern Japanese army and when it was installed in 1893, it was Japan’s first Western-style statue.
You will then see the Daini Torii (Second Shrine Gate) which was built in 1887 and is the biggest bronze gate in Japan. And straight ahead is the Shinmon, a cypress gate that was completed in 1934. Restoration was done on the main gate back in 1994.
And beyond that gate are temples and garden.
As mentioned, we didn’t go past Daini Torii. And because we all had our photo gear, we probably wouldn’t be able to get in and cover the location like we would want to because of the strict press rules.
But that’s OK with us.
We were cool with what we were able to see.