The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo has periodically inflamed diplomatic relations between Japan and its neighbours.
The shrine honours the spirits of Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including 14 men charged by the Allies after World War II as Class A war criminals.
The 14 wartime leaders, including General Hideki Tojo, were accused of crimes against humanity and peace. Two died during their trials.
Twelve were convicted, of whom seven were hanged.
Tojo served as Prime Minister during most of the war and was responsible for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
More than 20 million people in other Asian countries were killed by the Imperial Japanese Army, historians say. The figure includes victims of the Rape of Nanjing in 1937, in which 300,000 people were massacred and 20,000 women raped, according to Chinese authorities.
The late emperor Hirohito, who reigned during World War II, stopped visiting the Yasukuni memorial due to his displeasure over the 1978 enshrinement of the war criminals.
Yushukan, a war museum located within the compound, showcases exhibits that justify Japan’s engagement in the war.
Some Japanese revere the shrine, which was built in 1869, but it is hated by many of Japan’s neighbours — particularly China and the Koreas — as a glorifying symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and atrocities.
The shrine makes headlines around the world when Japanese leaders and lawmakers visit it, usually on August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, and during the annual spring and autumn festivals.
In 1985, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone became the first postwar leader to visit the shrine on the August 15 anniversary. Fierce protests from Asian countries kept him from repeating the visit on subsequent anniversaries.
Premier Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine every year in office between 2001 and 2006, leading Chinese and South Korean leaders to boycott talks with him.