A major Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Japan, and a source of controversy in recent years. Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869, during Japan’s era of State Shinto. It’s purpose was to commemorate the war deaths of those who sacrificed themselves for Japan in the years from 1853 to 1945, which are thought to number around 2.5 million and who include many women and children as well as men. The shrine is thought to hold the kami, which might be translated as spirits in this context, of all of those people. It also contains records of their names in a Book of Souls. The Yasukuni Shrine, whose name means peaceful country, has therefore come to be a kind of national shrine to some believers.
Among those revered at the shrine are one thousand Japanese soldiers convicted as war criminals after World War II; among them are fourteen class A war criminals who were executed for their actions. Until 1945 and the end of State Shinto, the Yasukuni Shrine was a governmentsponsored institution. Since then it has been supported privately. Some 8 million people visit the shrine every year, mostly to pay respects to the ancestors whose souls are still thought capable of intervening in everyday life. In recent years, Japanese prime ministers and other important politicians have made regular visits to the shrine, and some have even tried to restore its official status. This has given rise to controversy, since to many non-Japanese these visits imply a restoration of a nationalized form of worship and a rejection of Japan’s World War II crimes.