Japan's foreign minister plans to ask that a Tokyo war shrine surrender its religious status so the government can end the deification of top war criminals there, a major newspaper reported yesterday.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso is expected to make the proposal in a policy speech marking his official candidacy in the upcoming ruling party presidential race to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
In the proposal, Aso plans to urge Yasukuni shrine to give up its religious license granted by the city of Tokyo so the government can become involved in the issue without violating the constitutional separation of religion and state, the newspaper said.
Yasukuni, a symbol of Japan's past militarism, deifies the country's war dead, including executed war criminals from World War II.
Koizumi's repeated visits to the Shinto shrine have strained Tokyo's diplomatic ties with China and other Asian countries that suffered from Japan's wartime aggression.
The report comes a day after the front-runner for Japan's next prime minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, defended visits to the shrine, but refused to confirm reports he made a secret pilgrimage there in April.
Aso apparently wants to distance himself from Abe's stance on the shrine and show his eagerness to resolve the diplomatic row with China and South Korea, the Mainichi said.
Aso has said he would not visit Yasukuni if he becomes prime minister.