• Kyodo

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The Otsu District Court on Monday ordered the estate of a deceased mayor of Konan, Shiga Prefecture, to return to municipal coffers 20,000 yen in taxpayer money he used for private purposes, including shrine donations.

The plaintiffs, including Konan assembly member Katsu Yamada, had demanded the estate of former Mayor Satoru Yamamoto pay back some 5.9 million yen mainly used to pay for election celebrations for Diet members and the Shiga governor between 1994 and 2001.

The expenses included 53,000 yen in donations to a local Shinto shrine from 1994 to 2001, the plaintiffs said.

The court only ordered the repayment of some of the funds used in fiscal 2001. Yamamoto was mayor from 1994 to 2001.

On the use of taxpayer money for Shinto shrines, the Supreme Court ruled in April 1997 that the Ehime Prefectural Government’s donation of public money to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine violated the Constitution, which stipulates the separation of religion and state.

In its first decision on the donation of public money to the shrine, the top court said the donations also violated Article 89 of the Constitution, which states, “No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association.”

Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan’s war dead as well as war criminals and is regarded in many parts of Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

In handing down Monday’s ruling, presiding Judge Masanori Kanki said it was negligence on the part of the former mayor to continue to make the donations after the Supreme Court ruled that such acts violated the Constitution.