Kunio Kohori accused the sovereign of "trying to destroy Yasukuni shrine” by staying away. The shrine’s Book of Souls holds the names of 2.5 million people, including war criminals. Since he ascended to the throne, Emperor Akihito has chosen to honour fallen soldiers and civilians in Pacific battlefields.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The chief priest at Tokyo’s controversial Shinto Yasukuni shrine was forced to resign for using "highly inappropriate language" to criticise Emperor Akihito. His successor will be selected on 26 October in a general meeting.
The resignation stems from the latest issue of the Shukan Post, a weekly magazine that quoted chief priest Kunio Kohori, 68, as saying at a closed-door meeting in June that “the emperor is trying to destroy Yasukuni Shrine” by avoiding it.
Established in 1869 under Emperor Meiji, the site is dedicated to the souls of those who died fighting in the service of the Japanese Empire.
The shrine, however, has been a source of considerable controversy, especially in relation to countries that experienced the atrocities committed by the Japanese military.
The shrine’s Book of Souls contains the names of some 2.5 million people, including more than a thousand people convicted of war crimes.
Important Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have visited the memorial, but Emperor Akihito has never done so since he came to the throne in 1989.
The former chief priest questioned the sovereign’s choice. The emperor has in fact chosen to honour civilians and military fallen in the battlefields of the Pacific rather than those remembered in Yasukuni.
For Kohori, because of the emperor's behaviour, it is unlikely that Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako will ever visit the shrine once Akihito abdicates. The priest also alleges that the Crown Princess "detests Shinto and Shinto shrines".
Emperor Akihito has repeatedly expressed “deep remorse” over World War II, whilst the shrine and many of its supporters have claimed that Japan fought a war of self-defence.
The Constitution bans the emperor from engaging in any political activity. A visit by Akihito to Yasukuni would likely cause major controversy.