Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa broke the taboo of worshipping at Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to Japan’s war dead, in 1992 or 1993 when he was prime minister, sources close to family members of the war dead told Kyodo News on Saturday.
The sources said his visit to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo, where seven class-A war criminals hanged after the war are also enshrined, will be revealed in a book written by Miyazawa’s former colleague, Tadashi Itagaki, which will be published June 1.
Miyazawa, an 80-year-old member of the Liberal Democratic Party, told Itagaki, a former member of the House of Councilors from the LDP, about his visit to Yasukuni Shrine at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence on April 23, 1993.
Miyazawa was quoted as telling Itagaki that he did not enter the main shrine and that his visit was not on the shrine’s record, the sources said.
Miyazawa’s office has declined to comment.
Yasukuni Shrine, which before and during World War II was a bastion of government-sponsored Shintoism and a symbol of Japanese militarism, enshrines some 2.4 million Japanese military personnel and officials who have been killed since 1853 in conflicts.
Most of Japan’s 26 postwar prime ministers have shied away from visiting the shrine, as such visits attract criticism from Asian countries, many of which were invaded by Japan before 1945.
The visits are also controversial because Japan’s postwar Constitution stipulates a separation of state and religion.
Miyazawa is believed to have visited the shrine sometime between late 1992 and April 1993.
The former prime minister, who took office in November 1991, promised the Japan War-Bereaved Association that he would visit the shrine, the sources said. Itagaki is a member of the group, which actively supports the LDP.
The sources said Miyazawa apparently waited until after the Emperor made his first visit to China in late October 1992, so as not to offend Beijing.
Of Japan’s 26 prime ministers, only Yasuhiro Nakasone and Ryutaro Hashimoto were previously known to have paid a visit to the shrine while in office.
Nakasone, a former navy officer, visited the shrine on Aug. 15, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the war’s end, but strong oppositions from China and other countries prevented him from returning during his remaining years in office.
Hashimoto went to the shrine on July 29, 1996 — his 59th birthday — and signed the shrine’s guest book, including his name and his title of “prime minister.”
In August last year, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka “personally” proposed the creation of a new shrine dedicated to the Class-A war criminals outside the Yasukuni Shrine compound, so that Cabinet members would be able to visit the shrine without offending Japan’s neighbors.