More than 100 senior Maritime Self-Defense Force officers have made an annual visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine this year.
According to a newsletter issued by the Tokyo shrine, 119 MSDF officers clad in uniform visited on Tuesday, May 20, just before embarking on a long training exercise.
Some intellectuals say the visits may breach the constitutional separation of state and religion, and that such action in uniform on a weekday could be viewed as a public duty.
The Defense Ministry insists the officers went to the shrine on their own accord during a break, and that they visited the Yasukuni facilities for educational purposes.
The newsletter has published articles on visits by MSDF officers every year dating back to at least 2000.
In the February 2012 issue, Upper House member Masahisa Sato, a former officer in the Ground Self-Defense Force, wrote an article saying that Japanese citizens should think about what to do to help bring Yasukuni and the SDF closer together.
Article 20 of the Constitution says “the state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.”
Yasukuni began honoring wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other Class-A war criminals in 1978, stirring controversy in Japan and abroad.
Visits to the shrine by political leaders always spark criticism from China and South Korea, which suffered from Japan’s wartime aggression and see Yasukuni as a symbol of the country’s past militarism.
Yasukuni Shrine enshrines about 2.47 million people “who dedicated their precious lives to defend the country,” mainly soldiers of Japan’s modern wars.