To set a point straight: In my opinion, the Yushukan museum (the propaganda zoo situated next to the Yasukuni shrine) is an atrocity all unto itself. True, the Japanese have their own side of the story of what happened during WW2, but the stuff in that museum is exactly what the propaganda of the day was saying "it's all for the benefit of Asia, freeing it from colonialism!"... Ridiculous. The idea that promising young people here in Japan are falling for the exact same propaganda that cost so many young lives just a few decades ago is sickening.
Anyway, lets continue. Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.
If I (or the state, for that matter) was to visit a war-grave in the UK, noone would think a thing of it, I think. Somewhere (I assume) there are graves for the people that gave the go-ahead for the bombing of various cities in Germany, Japan, and a whole host of other cities across Europe that were under axis control. I imagine people still visit the cemeteries housing those graves, and I never heard of anyone complaining about it.
Yasukuni is a bit more complicated because the war-criminals and soldiers are all at the same complex. I'm not sure about the exact layout of the shrine, but needless to say, if you want to pay your respects to your war-dead, you might have your prayers overheard by a war-criminal or two. Evidently, if you're the leader of a country surrounded by past victims of said war-criminals, this is going to cause problems.
However, is this really a problem with the Japanese side? Or is this as much to do with our failure to understand what is going through the Japanese heads?
Freedom of religion is something we of the West are supposed to be pretty big on (not a fan of religion myself, but lets not go there today), and to tell anyone they cant worship somewhere because of events come and gone is supposedly amoral. But religion is just an obfuscation of what is really happening. The real reason Yasukuni has become such a controversy is because it has become a political tool. If the Japanese don't visit the shrine, domestically speaking they might look cowardly, and the government will weaken as a result. If they do visit the shrine, the surrounding countries will look cowardly if they don't protest. Its a horrible balancing act between Japanese public opinion and international politics, with religion acting as a pivot. If everyone just stood back and acknowledged the situation, and then moved on to the next issue, then the problem would disappear entirely. Unfortunately world politics always plays out like school-ground arguments.
Looking at the Japanese newspapers, it doesn't seem this latest visit the shrine went down too well on the Japanese side either, and perhaps this is a sign that visiting the shrine is no longer a viable way of increasing opinion poll ratings. If that is the case, then visits to the shrine by state officials might die off.
EDIT: Lets ignore the fact that Shinzo Abe is a Right-winger for the purposes of this discussion. It undoubtedly played a part in this, lets not kid ourselves that it wasn't desire for political support that really made him go, but his ideology. That isn't how most democracy works*.
EDIT2: Lets also ignore Shinzo Abe's possible ambition of nullifying the peace consitution. That is speculation, interesting and well-informed speculation, and possibly true. But for him to ever succeed he needs to come out of this affair with better public opinion than when he went in, which frankly doesn't look so certain.
*I say this with some considerable degree of hesitation.. Would love to discuss that with a politics graduate.