According to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday, Justin Bieber thought he was just visiting another Tokyo tourist attraction when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine last week. Numerous pictures of Bieber posing prayerfully before the shrine were posted to his Instagram account, but with everyone but his adoring fans, the criticism began pouring in.
While an internationally famous pop-star could be excused for not taking the time to research what he planned on visiting, it does not excuse his many advisors, who should have been aware of the ongoing controversy that surrounds the Shinto shrine.
The shrine commemorates the war dead, both civilians in service and government officials, who served the Emperor of Japan during the war years from 1867 to 1951. The shrine houses the "kami," or spiritual souls of the dead. The shrine is strictly religious, based on the separation of the state Shinto religious beliefs and the Japanese government.
The controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine involves who has been enshrined in the temple. The shrine's Book of Souls contains the names of 2,466,532 people, of which 1,068 were convicted of war crimes after World War II. This fact alone makes for controversy with China, South Korea, and Taiwan.
When the world was made aware of the inclusion of war criminals into the shrine records on April 19, 1979, the media picked up on the story, and by 1985, the controversy over the shrine became full-blown. But it is the political over-tones surrounding visits be political leaders and, more recently, the use of the shrine by right-wing and ultra-right-wing groups as a mecca for their gatherings that has caused the most dissension.
Today, visits by Japanese government officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, cause constant strain on Japan's relations between South Korea, Taiwan and China. Government officials in those countries point out that visits by political leaders show the Japanese still appear to be revisionist and unapologetic about the events of World War II.