An influential group that represents families of the war dead is urging Yasukuni Shrine to remove the names of the convicted war criminals currently enshrined there, an official said Wednesday.
A chapter of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association passed a resolution at its annual meeting Monday, calling on the shrine’s governors to delist the names from the 2½ million Japanese souls honored there.
The change would enable “the Emperor and the Empress, the prime minister and all Japanese people to visit Yasukuni Shrine without discomfort,” an official from the group’s chapter in Fukuoka told reporters.
Similar calls have been heard over the years, both inside Japan and overseas.
The names include that of army Gen. and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Nationalists, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, argue that the Tokyo shrine is no different from war memorials in other countries, such as Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
But the secret addition of World War II leaders to the Yasukuni list in 1978 caused Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, to cancel a planned visit, according to a memo by one of his aides.
His son, Emperor Akihito, has never visited the shrine.
Japanese politicians stoke anger in China and South Korea whenever they visit the shrine. Those nations suffered at the hands of Japanese aggression in the first half of the 20th century and regard visits by political leaders as insensitive triumphalism.
A small section of the political right believes Japan is unfairly criticized for its wartime past, saying the international military tribunal that convicted the leaders was practicing the justice of the victors and that Japan’s empire-building was no different from that of the European powers.
The issue has soured ties with Japan’s neighbors and even prompted a scolding from the United States when Abe visited the shrine last year.
Japan’s leader has not held formal talks with either China’s President Xi Jinping or South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye since they came to office.
Abe’s visit to the controversial shrine came amid a near-crisis in relations with Beijing, strained by sparring over the sovereignty of an island chain in the East China Sea.
Abe made brief contact with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang earlier this month at an international gathering in Italy, a sign that relations may be thawing. Abe hopes to meet with Xi on the sidelines of an international summit in Beijing next month.
In an effort to lay the groundwork for a bilateral summit, former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met with Xi in Beijing on Wednesday, less than two weeks ahead of a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders.