South Koreans testify against Yasukuni’s inclusion of their kin


A group of South Koreans testified in court Friday in a bid to have their relatives’ names struck from Yasukuni Shrine’s list of war dead, saying the inclusion is “shameful and a disgrace.”

One South Korean plaintiff meanwhile demanded that his name also be struck from the list. He found out in 1959 that he had wrongly been included among the war dead.

The suit, filed with the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 26 by 11 plaintiffs, charges the contentious Tokyo shrine inappropriately consecrates those who died in the war. Three of the plaintiffs are suing the government concurrently.

Lee Hee Ja, 64, whose father died during a battle in 1945 after being conscripted by the Imperial Japanese Army, claimed through an interpreter that her father’s enshrinement at the site that “symbolizes Japan’s militarism” causes intolerable pain.

“I was parted forever from my father because of the Japanese government,” Lee, dressed in a traditional Korean “chima chogori” dress, said in a tearful plea during the first session of the litigation.

“Why must my father’s spirit continue to be confined at Yasukuni?” she asked.

The shrine, a private Shinto organization that promoted nationalism during the war, enshrines the names of approximately 2.46 million people who died in the conflict, including some 21,000 Koreans.

The shrine has caused diplomatic tensions with China and South Korea for listing 14 Class-A war criminals among the enshrined.

The plaintiffs are demanding a public apology from Yasukuni and compensation of ¥1 each in addition to having the names removed.

Yeo Myeong Hwan, a plaintiff whose father is enshrined among the war dead, claimed his distress “cannot be described in words.”

“I beg the court to allow me to hold a service for my father while I am still alive,” the 70-year-old said through an interpreter.

In filing the suit, the plaintiffs argued that enshrining those who do not practice Shinto violates Article 13 of the Constitution, which guarantees that an individual’s right to life, among others, shall be respected.

They also claim that the government engaged in religious activities by providing the list of war dead to the shrine, breaching Article 20 of the Constitution, which bans the state from any religious undertakings.

Lawyers for Yasukuni countered Friday that the shrine has a constitutional right to practice its affairs and that it has not imposed religious acts on any of the plaintiffs.

In rejecting a similar lawsuit in May 2006 — filed by 414 Korean plaintiffs against the government, not Yasukuni — the Tokyo District Court ruled that it was “within the range of ordinary administrative research and response work” for the government to provide a list of war dead to the shrine. Plaintiffs appealed the case to the Tokyo High Court and that litigation is ongoing.

Eight of the 11 plaintiffs in Friday’s suit were involved in the failed case.