The Yomiuri Shinbum, one of Japan’s major newspapers, has an excellent three part series online on their English website entitled Yasukuni: Behind the torii.
Prior to World War II, shrines were usually managed by the Interior Ministry. But Yasukuni Shrine was categorized as a special government shrine and operated by the army and the navy ministries.
The deities enshrined at the shrine are not mythical or historical figures, but the war dead who gave their lives for the nation. Yasukuni is different from a tomb in that it contains neither the remains of the dead nor memorial tablets for them.
The collective enshrinement of the war dead was informally approved by the army and navy, and then given formal approval by the emperor. Not only military personnel and civilians serving with the military are enshrined at Yasukuni, but also bureaucrats, civilians and cadets.
At the end of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), the Japan-China War (1937-45) and World War II (1939-45), a ceremony was held to enshrine the war dead, and bereaved families were invited to the ceremony. The shrine thus became a place to honor the memory of the war dead.
When the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in 1952 and the Allied Occupation ended in Japan, there was a nationwide movement for the release of war criminals, and more than 40 million people signed a petition for their release.
In 1953, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors adopted a resolution calling for a pardon for the nation’s war criminals. In the same year, a law to assist bereaved families of those wounded or killed during the war was revised so that bereaved families of war criminals would be eligible for pensions and compensation.
In 1954, the Public Officials Pensions Law was revised to widen and improve measures to assist war criminals. The government designated the executions of war criminals as deaths incurred in the line of duty and did not establish provisions that would disqualify Class-A war criminals from seeking public office.
In the end, Class-A war criminals, and Class-B and -C war criminals, including suspects, were released by 1956 and 1958, respectively.
Yasukuni Shrine said it would be impossible to enshrine Class-A criminals elsewhere due to Shinto doctrine.
Procedures by which war dead are collectively enshrined are as follows:
— Their names and addresses are written in India ink on traditional Japanese washi paper.
— A ceremony is held to invoke the spirits of the dead and connect them with their names on the paper so that a list can be made.
— The list is placed behind the main shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine has two artifacts in which spirits are enshrined.
The spirits of Class-A criminals were enshrined with more than 2.46 million others in one artifact, while the other enshrines the spirits of Imperial Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa and Prince Kitashirakawa Nagahisa and their families.
According to Yasukuni Shrine, some observers say all the shrine needs to do to move the Class-A criminals is to erase their names from the list. But shrine officials do not agree. The shrine says it is as impossible to extract the spirits of the Class-A criminals as it is to return liquid to a cup after pouring it into a tank of water.
In terms of Shinto doctrine, spirits can only be enshrined separately when they already have been enshrined in a separate artifact, which can be at the same shrine, as there is no way to retrieve specific spirits that already have been enshrined.
Spirits enshrined at one shrine can be moved to another through a procedure that copies them, in a sense. But this procedure can only copy the entire group rather than specific spirits and therefore, does not provide a solution to the problem, the shrine said.
If bereaved families ask the shrine to separate the spirits of the 14, shrine officials said they would tell them that such an action was impossible under Shinto doctrine.