More than 50 people representing Taiwan's indigenous tribes arrived in Japan yesterday to demand that the names of their ancestors forced to fight in World War II be removed from a controversial war memorial.
The protesters, many in traditional clothes, held a ceremony outside an airport lobby before they boarded their planes to summon the spirits of their ancestors killed in the war.
Representing nine tribes, they plan to protest from today outside Yasukuni shrine, dedicated to 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Japanese war criminals.
Japanese authorities have, however, warned them via Taiwan's de facto embassy that they would be barred from visiting the shrine.
The group also plans to travel to Osaka where a verdict is expected on June 17 in a court case demanding the removal of the names.
Some 28,000 Taiwanese names -- about 10,000 of them of indigenous Taiwanese forced to join the Japanese military -- are listed at the shrine.
The soldiers listed were pressed into military service when Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945.
"What we want is simple: that the names of our sacrificed ancestors be removed from the Yasukuni shrine," Chang Chun-chieh (張俊傑), an aide to Legislator May Chin (高金素梅) who is heading the group, said.
"The names of the ancestors should not be listed together with some 1,100 Japanese soldiers who died while invading [Taiwan]," Chang said.
Another protester, Tu Shui-chiu, told reporters: "I had dreamed of a group of ancestors last night. They are anxiously waiting for our arrival."
May Chin said last week her office had received "countless phone calls" warning her group against making the trip.
She said she had also been sent an anonymous postcard which threatened in Mandarin: "I will wait for you in Japan on June 13 so that you can come to Japan and return lifeless to Taiwan."
Undaunted, she said: "We'll protest in a peaceful manner as scheduled."