Hirohito visits to Yasukuni stopped over war criminals

Emperor Hirohito expressed strong displeasure in 1988 over Yasukuni Shrine’s decision in the late 1970s to include Class-A war criminals on the list of people honored there, sources said Thursday, citing a memorandum by a former Imperial Household Agency official.

“That’s why I have not visited the shrine since,” the Emperor, known posthumously as Showa, told former Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Tomohiko Tomita, according to a memorandum written by Tomita that was obtained by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

The sources said the Emperor was referring to his decision not to visit after the shrine decided in 1978 to honor the 14 Class-A war criminals, confirming Thursday’s Nikkei article.

The memorandum confirms speculation by historians that the reason Emperor Hirohito refrained from visiting the shrine was because of its decision to honor the war criminals. He visited the shrine eight times after World War II, the last time in November 1975.

Asked about the report, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said the Imperial Household Agency did not have details on the matter, as the media report was based on a personal memo, adding, “I believe that the Imperial Household Agency handled Emperor Showa’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine after careful consideration of the circumstances, such as the social conditions of the time.”

Asked if the government will reconsider how to commemorate the war dead, Abe said the government will not comment on whether the Class-A war criminals should be enshrined elsewhere, and stressed that the state’s position on the issue “remains unchanged.”

“As for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits, that’s for him to decide,” said Abe, who supports Koizumi’s contentious visits to Yasukuni. Abe added there is no change in his own stance of paying respect to those who have fought and sacrificed themselves for the country.

Yasukuni Shrine declined comment on the Nihon Keizai Shimbun report.

Tomita, who died in 2003, recorded conversations with the Emperor in his diaries, dating from 1975 through 1986, and journals, from 1986 to 1997, the sources said.

The entry about Yasukuni Shrine was dated April 28, 1988, they said.

“At some point, Class-A criminals became enshrined, including Matsuoka and Shiratori. I heard Tsukuba acted cautiously,” the Emperor was quoted as saying in reference to wartime Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and Toshio Shiratori, who became Japan’s ambassador to Italy in 1938.

Tsukuba is believed to be Fujimaro Tsukuba, a former chief priest at Yasukuni who declined to honor the war criminals even after he received a list containing their names from the government in 1966.

“What’s on the mind of Matsudaira’s son, who is the current head priest?” the Emperor was also quoted as saying, noting the priest appeared to have quickly made the decision to honor the war criminals without giving the matter much thought.

“Matsudaira had a strong wish for peace, but the child didn’t know the parent’s heart. That’s why I have not visited the shrine since. This is my heart,” Tomita quoted the Emperor as saying.

Emperor Hirohito was apparently referring to Yoshitami Matsudaira, who was Imperial Household minister immediately following the end of World War II, and his son, Nagayoshi, the Yasukuni head priest who decided to enshrine the war criminals in 1978. The criminals were honored at the shrine in October 1978.