Opinions were divided among the thousands of people gathered at Yasukuni Shrine on Monday over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s controversial visit the same day.

A group of six high school girls came to the shrine because their school is nearby and they noticed the helicopters flying around.

“I am against his visit to the shrine,” said one of the girls, noting that she fears that his visit may cause a war again.

Among the protesters at the shrine were some Koreans, most in their late fifties or sixties, whose family members were killed in World War II.

“Some people sued Japan 10 years ago to take the enshrined Korean victims off the list, but this protest has been ignored repeatedly,” said one Korean man. “It is extremely rude. Not only were Koreans killed in a war with the Japanese, they have also enshrined their spirits without our consent. This is an extreme form of rudeness.”

Most of them spoke little Japanese and Kim Tae Sun, a 57-year-old woman who lost her father in the war, said that she only found out her father was enshrined with the help of the South Korean government.

“The Japanese government never cooperated with anything, never even told me that my father was here,” she said. “If Koizumi said he will come on the 15th, he should have done that. Then more family members would have come from Korea to protest. We see him as coward.”

Another individual protester, Shuhei Nishimura, was inviting other visitors to express their opinions through a loudspeaker.

“Mass-media never reports about opposing parties,” he said. “If Koreans appear in the Japanese media, they are presented as the wrong side because they are protesting. You should show both sides.”

On the other hand, some people welcomed Koizumi’s move.

Kento Sawada, a 14-year-old student, cheerfully holding his Japanese flag high. “I saw the news on TV and ran here,” he said. “None of my family or friends have any opinion about this issue, but looking at TV and books, I decided myself that it is right for Koizumi as prime minister to visit those who died for Japan.”

When asked about the opposition from people in neighboring countries, Sawada said: “That is also an issue that needs attention, but it should be considered separately from his visit. It is still very important for the prime minister to be here.”

A Japanese man handing out the traditional national flag to passersby said: “I’m an ordinary company worker. I’ve seen the ad on the Sankei Shimbun and decided to help hand out flags together with the group that supports Koizumi’s visit to the Shrine. There’s about 50 such volunteers here, and I heard we are handing out about 5,000 flags.”

Koizumi’s extraordinary popularity drew many visitors, while others preferred not to express their opinions on the issue.

One was James Curry, a 44-year-old visiting professor of sociology and e-commerce at the nearby Hosei University, who comes from California.

“Being just a visitor here, it seems like this is a similar issue to an American president visiting Normandy beach or Arlington National Cemetery,” he said. “But since I don’t live here, I may not know enough. I will read more about it.”

A foreign couple, one of them wearing a T-shirt with “Peru” written on it, smiled and waved the Japanese flag for a picture with the shrine in the background. They didn’t want to talk about Koizumi’s visit.

A family of five, also holding flags provided by the shrine, waited in line for Koizumi to come. “We came to the shrine not knowing that the prime minister was coming,” the grandmother said.

“Since the shrine is causing a huge controversy these days, we just dropped by on our way home and happened to know that he was coming,” she said, adding that they were waiting only to get a glimpse of Koizumi.

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