A memo drafted by the late Emperor Hirohito’s secretary in 1988 indicates that Hirohito purposefully stopped his visits to Yasukuni Shrine after Class A war criminals were added to its list in 1978. Hirohito had visited the shrine eight times between 1945 and 1978, but mysteriously stopped after that, and nobody was ever sure exactly why (although the implication was obvious enough).
After this news broke on Thursday, both Koizumi and potential successor Shinzo Abe stated that they would not change their personal Yasukuni policies, Koizumi characterizing it as an “issue of the heart” and Abe questioning the authoritativeness of the “personal” memo.
This might have seemed like a boon for Yasuo Fukuda, the only major contender for Koizumi’s throne to clearly oppose visiting Yasukuni, but then, just to make things more ridiculous, he decided not to run on Friday night. This makes the race a pretty one-sided game for Abe: while Taku Yamasaki and Koichi Kato continue to lead the opposition to Koizumi and Abe within the LDP, their support is not nearly broad enough at this point to stop Abe from winning the party election in September.
So do Hirohito’s opinions mean anything in today’s Japan? Well, they can certainly be used as ammunition for the anti-Koizumi guns, but they’re certainly not enough to pierce his armor. And if Abe’s current behavior is any indication, it will take better ammunition to bring him down as well.