OSAKA – The Osaka District Court on Thursday dismissed a demand by plaintiffs in Japan and Taiwan for an injunction to prevent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from making future visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
The court also rejected a compensation demand by the 765 plaintiffs, including Koreans living in Japan, over the prime minister’s last visit to the shrine, which honors war criminals along with war dead, in December 2013.
The plaintiffs, aged in their 20s to 80s, sought ¥10,000 each from Abe, the Japanese government and the shrine, saying Abe’s visit violated the constitutional principle of separating state and religion.
The Osaka court, which was the first to rule on lawsuits filed over Abe’s Yasukuni visit, did not give decisions on the visit’s constitutionality or whether it constitutes a public or private visit.
Presiding Judge Tetsuji Sato noted in the ruling that Yasukuni had a different significance from other shrines due to its historic background. He also said the court recognized “a visit by the prime minister could have great impact on the plaintiffs’ freedom of religion.”
But he ruled “the act of visiting a shrine itself does not interfere with other people’s beliefs or living.”
“It cannot be concluded that the plaintiffs suffered infringement of rights,” he said.
The plaintiffs are planning to appeal against the ruling.
However, the government welcomed the ruling. “The state’s claims have been upheld,” said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda.
He said Abe’s use of an official vehicle in visiting the shrine should not make the visit a public one, saying there are no other options given the security and emergency planning required.
Yasukuni Shrine itself also welcomed the ruling, with an official saying it considered it an “appropriate ruling” and hoped it would foster proper historic understanding of the shrine among the greater public.
Yasukuni enshrines wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other convicted war criminals, along with the war dead. Some Asian countries, particularly South Korea and China, view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
During the trial, the plaintiffs, including university students, company employees and families of the war dead, claimed Abe’s visit was a sign of approval of the shrine’s role of promoting militarism and glorifying deaths on the battlefield, and consisted an act of preparing for a war.
Abe’s December 2013 visit was the first for a prime minister in about seven years following Junichiro Koizumi’s visit in 2006. Abe arrived in a state vehicle and offered flowers carrying both his name and title.