April 13, 2004

Koizumi says shrine visits private

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stressed Wednesday his visits to Yasukuni Shrine were made in a private capacity after a district court ruled his actions had violated the Constitution. He had said earlier in the day that he visited the shrine as a prime minister and Junichiro Koizumi, adding that he was not sure if the visit was official or private.

His statement was the first of its kind to characterize his four visits to the Shinto shrine, which honors the war dead and 14 Class-A war criminals, as personal acts.

After the Fukuoka District Court decided the prime minister's Aug. 13, 2001, visit was unconstitutional, Koizumi reiterated his intention to continue visiting and worshiping at Yasukuni Shrine every year. The government already had asserted that the prime minister's visits to the shrine did not violate the Constitution, which stipulates the separation of religion and state, claiming he visits in a private capacity. But there also are opinions that the matter needs fuller explanation to gain the understanding of the public.

"I don't understand why (my visit was) unconstitutional. Why are visits to Yasukuni Shrine a problem, when visits to the Ise Grand Shrines are fine? They're both shrines, after all," Koizumi said Wednesday evening, showing his strong dissatisfaction with the court ruling. Asked by reporters whether he would change the style of his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Koizumi repeatedly said,"Why should I?"

His remarks apparently indicate his belief that his visits to the shrine are based, in his own words, on "nothing but personal belief." Since August 2001, Koizumi has visited the shrine in a style that was decided after the government thoroughly considered the matter, taking into account the principle of the separation of religion and state.

In the past four visits, Koizumi bowed only once, although Shinto protocol calls for worshipers at the sanctuary to bow twice, clap twice and bow once again. He did not offer a tamagushi, a sprig from the sakaki tree, which is sacred in Shinto, but instead offered flowers that he paid for himself.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a press conference Wednesday that the district court presented a view different from that of the government. It was a reiteration of its position that prime ministerial visits to the shrine, which are in line with the government's past views, do not violate the Constitution. But there were views within the government it might be better for Koizumi to do more to try to persuade people that the visits are private since he had not clarified whether his four visits were paid in an official or private capacity.

Koizumi said at a press conference Wednesday evening that he visited the shrine in a private capacity, claiming for the first time that his visits are private. He is believed to have made the claim in consideration of such views. The district court also said the visit was repeated without any full discussions of its constitutionality.

There also were views among those close to the government that more broad-based public discussion on the commemoration of the war dead is necessary.

Asked if he visited the shrine in a private capacity, Koizumi said Wednesday evening: "Yes. My visits weren't something done in a high-profile way as an official or national event. I think my visits were private since I visited the shrine based on my personal belief." Speaking at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, Koizumi said he pays his respects to the shrine in the hope that Japan should never wage war again.

"I don't understand why the visit is unconstitutional," Koizumi said." I offer my sincere condolences for the deceased whose souls are enshrined there."