Japan to ‘soften’ controversial war shrine

Japanese men in military costumes pay respects to the nation's war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Aug. 15, 2006.
Japanese men in military costumes pay respects to the nation's war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Aug. 15, 2006.Koji Sasahara / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

The Japanese war shrine at the center of a long-running dispute between Tokyo and Beijing has decided to “soften” references to China in a war museum on its premises, a Japanese newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated to their coldest in decades under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, partly because of his annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Bilateral ties have begun to improve under Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe, who took office in September declining to say whether he would visit the shrine as prime minister.

Japanese World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored at the Tokyo shrine alongside millions of war dead, provoking anger in parts of Asia where many suffered under Japan’s military aggression before and during the war.

The Shinto shrine’s war history museum, which features exhibits such as a torpedo of the type used for manned suicide missions, is often criticized for presenting a one-sided view of World War Two.

Shrine authorities agreed in October to alter text on display in the museum stating that the United States deliberately forced Japan into the war. The new display panels on the U.S. role in the war will be installed next month, the Mainichi said.

At the time the shrine said it saw no need to change references to China, but a shrine panel has now decided revisions are needed, the paper said.

The exhibition currently says, for example, that the Marco Polo Bridge incident -- the 1937 battle near Beijing that marked the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese war -- was sparked by Chinese nationalist troops’ illegal attacks on the Japanese, the Mainichi said.

“There is no mistake in the facts, but the expressions are such that some parts could be misunderstood, so we will substitute softer expressions,” the daily Mainichi Shimbun quoted a source involved in the revisions as saying of the references to China.

The shrine intends to refer to Chinese as well as Japanese texts in preparing the new exhibits, it said.

A spokeswoman for the Yasukuni Shrine said revisions were being made at the museum but declined to comment on their content.