Documents show state led move to enshrine war criminals at Yasukuni

January 21, 2012

By JUN SATO / Staff Writer

Documents contradicting the government's claim that it had nothing to do with the 1978 enshrinement of 14 Class-A war criminals have recently emerged from national archives.

The presence of the war criminals has made Yasukuni a controversial site for visits by Japanese prime ministers as Asian nations such as China and South Korea have criticized the role Yasukuni played in Japan during World War II.

Government officials have long insisted that the enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister when Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into the war, was initiated and conducted solely by Yasukuni officials. The same government officials claimed that because the government was not involved and the enshrinement was a religious act conducted on the part of Yasukuni, there was no violation of constitutional provisions separating religion from the state.

However, the documents show that former Health and Welfare Ministry officials had already decided in 1953, one year after Japan regained its independence, on a process by which war criminals would eventually be included among the war dead honored at Yasukuni.

Some passages in the documents call on prefectural governments to ask local shrines for the war dead to enshrine the war criminals first, thereby setting a precedent that would allow Yasukuni officials to also enshrine those individuals.

The role of government officials in the decision harks back to the days before the end of World War II, when the government was in charge of matters relating to enshrinement at Yasukuni.

The documents, retrieved from the National Archives of Japan, include the "Summary for Program Operations" for fiscal 1954, which outlined programs to provide support to war returnees under the jurisdiction of the Health and Welfare Ministry. It was compiled by ministry officials who had previously worked in the Army and Navy ministries.

One document focused on the early resolution of the war criminal issue.

Considerations of what to include in the program summary started soon after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed in September 1951. The summaries were compiled every year between fiscal 1952 and 1954.

In the 1952 document, a passage calls for efforts to have "the executed" also enshrined at local ceremonies.

After the peace treaty went into effect in April 1952, the 1953 document went even further, saying "enshrinement will be undertaken at the proper opportunity" for the executed war criminals.

A document compiled in December 1953 clearly states that "the ultimate objective is 'enshrinement at Yasukuni Shrine.'" It adds that the move would be made based on public opinion as well as progress made in the provision of condolence money and pensions to the bereaved families of war criminals, the same as was given to all families of the war dead.

Based on the policies laid out in the summaries, the Health and Welfare Ministry in March 1954 issued a directive to prefectural governments to have those not yet enshrined to be included at local "gokoku jinja" that had been established to honor the war dead from that prefecture. That enshrinement was seen as a precondition for eventually enshrining the war criminals at Yasukuni.

The gokoku jinja in Fukuoka, Okayama and Kumamoto prefectures did, in fact, enshrine three Class-A war criminals before their enshrinement at Yasukuni. The three were Koki Hirota, a former prime minister who was the only civilian among those executed, and two former army generals, Kenji Doihara and Akira Muto.

The gokoku jinja in Osaka, Sapporo and Kobe enshrined Class-B and Class-C war criminals before they were enshrined at Yasukuni.

Before enshrinement, government officials ensured that bereaved family members of the war criminals also were given the benefits of bereaved families of the war dead. The similar level of support provided by the government provided the rationale for also moving forward on the enshrinement, which was also provided all war dead.

The expansion of the government support was implemented through legal revisions after 1953, which led to the enshrinement of Class-B and Class-C war criminals at Yasukuni between 1959 and 1966.

A former high-ranking official of the Health and Welfare Ministry said, "If I had known about this document, the responses in the Diet would have been completely different."

Yasukuni Shrine officials refused to comment.

By JUN SATO / Staff Writer
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The document folder that contained the summary of program operations that describes the process for enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine (The Asahi Shimbun)

The document folder that contained the summary of program operations that describes the process for enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • The document folder that contained the summary of program operations that describes the process for enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • Yasukuni Shrine (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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