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U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, on Monday visited Meiji Shrine, a major venue for Shinto worshippers in Tokyo.

Bush and the first lady paid their respects by bowing in front of the main shrine hall before signing a registry book, including a brief comment on their visit.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did not accompany Bush to the shrine, apparently to avoid a stir over the constitutional separation of state and religion.

However, Koizumi later joined Bush on the grounds of the shrine to watch a display of “yabusame,” or traditional mounted archery.

The shrine in Shibuya Ward is dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his consort, Empress Shoken (1850-1914). The emperor was famous for transforming Japan from an isolated and feudal country into a modern world power during his reign. Bush’s visit was said to symbolize Japan’s need to take bold reform steps.

Originally built in 1920, the shrine was destroyed by a U.S. air raid on April 14, 1945. It was rebuilt in 1958.

The visit was arranged at the request of Bush, who reportedly hoped to get a sense of the country’s traditional culture.

A previous arrangement to visit the shrine in October was postponed in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Yabusame, which started around the sixth century, is performed within a shrine’s precincts by mounted archers who shoot at three stationary targets while riding at full gallop. It is a rite for peace and good harvests.

In October, Koizumi presented a large bow and whistling arrow used in yabusame at the start of his talks with Bush in Shanghai during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The arrow with hawk’s feathers was presented in a wooden box on which Koizumi had inscribed, in Japanese calligraphy, “An arrow to defeat evil and bring peace on Earth” — a message meant to encourage the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.

When former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan visited the shrine on their visits to Japan, the prime ministers at the time also declined to accompany them.

Koizumi angered Japan’s neighbors in August when he visited Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to Japan’s war dead, including Class-A Japanese war criminals. He did not specify at that time whether he was visiting in a private or official capacity.

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