Japan group members urge Yasukuni shrine to ditch war-criminal names

People visit the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on Oct 17, 2014. Some members of an influential group that represents families of Japanese war dead are urging managers of a controversial Tokyo shrine to remove the names of 14 convicted w
People visit the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on Oct 17, 2014. Some members of an influential group that represents families of Japanese war dead are urging managers of a controversial Tokyo shrine to remove the names of 14 convicted war criminals, an official said on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Some members of an influential group that represents families of Japanese war dead are urging managers of a controversial Tokyo shrine to remove the names of 14 convicted war criminals, an official said on Wednesday.

A chapter of the War-Bereaved Families Association passed a resolution at its annual meeting on Monday to demand that Yasukuni shrine remove the names from among 2.5 million fallen Japanese honoured at the leafy site.

The changes are necessary "for the emperor and the empress, the prime minister and all Japanese people to visit the Yasukuni Shrine without any discomfort", an official from the group's chapter in the western prefecture of Fukuoka told AFP.

The call follows earlier demands over the years, from both inside and outside Japan, for the names to be removed.

Nationalists, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, argue that Yasukuni is no different from other countries' war memorials such as the US National Cemetery at Arlington.

But the secret addition of 14 World War II leaders - including army general and prime minister Hideki Tojo who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor - to the Yasukuni honour list in 1978 hindered a visit by the then-Emperor Hirohito, according to a memo by one of his aides.

His son, Emperor Akihito, has never visited the shrine.

Japanese politicians' regular visits to the shrine have been controversial, prompting anger in China and South Korea which suffered badly from Japanese aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

A small section of the political right believes Japan is unfairly criticised for its wartime past, saying the Tokyo international military tribunal that convicted the 14 was practising victor's justice and Japan's empire-building was no different from that of European powers.

The issue has soured ties with Japan's neighbours and prompted a scolding from ally Washington when Abe visited the shrine last year.

Japan's leader has not held formal talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping or South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye since they all came to office over the past two years.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo were already dire before Abe's visit to Yasukuni, as they spar over the sovereignty of an island chain in the East China Sea.

But Abe made brief contact with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang earlier this month at an international gathering in Italy in a sign of thawing relations, as he looks to meet with Xi at an economic forum in Beijing next month.