The Tokyo District Court on Thursday rejected demands by former Korean soldiers who served in the Japanese military and relatives of deceased soldiers that the state remove their names from the rolls of war dead at Yasukuni Shrine and pay damages.
The ruling was handed down in a suit filed by 414 plaintiffs — 161 former soldiers and civilian personnel who served in the Japanese military as well as 253 members of the surviving families of such soldiers — who had filed lawsuits between 2001 and 2005, seeking a total of 4.4 billion yen in compensation.
It marks the first ruling in a suit filed by South Koreans who have sought the removal of their relatives enshrined at the Shinto shrine in Tokyo, which honors as well as the war dead 14 Class-A war criminals, according to a supporter of the plaintiffs.
Presiding Judge Shigeru Nakanishi said the plaintiffs’ claims cannot be accepted, citing a 1965 Japan-South Korea accord that normalized diplomatic ties, which also stated that wartime claims for redress were finally and completely settled under the treaty.
Yasukuni Shrine, which was used by the government as a vehicle to promote nationalism during the war, is seen as a symbol of Japanese militarism by the Korean Peninsula and China, both victims of past Japanese military occupation.
The focus at the trial was on whether it was appropriate for the former Health and Welfare Ministry to submit lists of war dead and their troop information to the shrine, which was converted into a private religious organization after the war. The health ministry stopped the practice in 1987.
As the shrine honored the war dead named in the lists, the plaintiffs have argued the state and the shrine acted “in unison over the enshrinement,” and therefore violated the Constitution’s Article 20, which bans the state from engaging in religious activities.
They also maintained that since Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion, enshrining people who do not practice Shinto amounted to an insult, and thus violated Article 13 of the Constitution, which states that an individuals’ right to life among others shall be respected.
But the judge claimed the state’s action of notifying the shrine about the war dead was “within the range of ordinary administrative research and response work,” and the enshrinement was the shrine’s decision.
“It cannot be said that the state enshrined the war dead by acting in unison with the shrine,” Nakanishi said.
Nakanishi also said the notification itself did not have “enforcement or specific disadvantages” on the plaintiffs, and thus cannot be said it violated their freedom of thought and conscience.