More controversy over Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine


One of America's strongest allies in the war on terror is the middle of a growing legal debate that has major implications for diplomatic relations across Asia.  Two conflicting court decisions in Tokyo and Osaka have pushed Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi repeated visits to a controversial Shinto shrine back into the headlines.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the rulings will prevent the Prime Minister, fresh off a stunning parliamentary election victory a few weeks ago, from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine near Tokyo in the future. 

Like millions across the continent, many of my university students here in Shanghai have a strong dislike for the Japanese leader because of his repeated visits to the shrine and inability to 'sincerely' apologize for the country's wartime past.  

Reaching a boiling point in late April, thousands of young Chinese hit the streets of major cities to express their anger at Japan, a key trading partner and source of billions of dollars in foreign aid in the past three decades.

As explained in a recent American Thinker article, Yasukuni honors 2.5 million war dead, including 14 Class A War criminals.  Legal experts are debating whether Koizumi's actions are constitutional or if they violated Article 20 that calls for the separation of religion and politics. Allied Occupation Forces imposed the constitution on the war—ravaged country in the late 1940's.

On Thursday, the Tokyo high court dismissed an appeal by 39 plaintiffs who sought damages from Koizumi and the state for psychological stress they claim his August 2001 visit caused them. First filing suit in December of 2001, the plaintiffs included civilians, war veterans and relatives of soldiers.

The Tokyo court decided Koizumi visited the shrine as a private citizen, and not in his official capacity as prime minister. 

But on Friday, an Osaka High Court found that Koizumi's worshipping at Yasukuni was a public act and therefore violated Article 20 of the constitution.  The court, however, rejected compensation demands of 188 plaintiffs, who included Taiwanese lawmakers and bereaved families from the island.

Many experts say that Sino—Japan relations are at an all—time low since diplomatic ties were forged in 1972.  Along with an ongoing dispute over natural resources in East China Sea, the confrontation between Japan and China could spiral out of control. 

Brian Schwarz   9 30 05