A court ruled yesterday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi violated the Constitution when he visited a religious shrine in 2001 that honors Japan's war dead, but the defiant premier vowed to keep going.
Such visits to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo have long angered China, South Korea and other Asian countries because of the site's association with the ideology of emperor worship behind Japan's wartime conquests.
The court case dealt with Koizumi's first visit as prime minister in August 2001, finding he violated the ban on religious activity by the government. Koizumi has gone to the shrine three times since then.
The plaintiffs cheered the ruling on Yasukuni, which enshrines the souls of 2.5 million Japanese who died in wars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japanese executed for war crimes after World War II, including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo, are also enshrined there.
"This is a fantastic ruling that clearly acknowledges the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni as unconstitutional," said Tsuneaki Gunjima, leader of the plaintiffs.
The activists had also demanded ?21.1 million (US$200,000) for psychological pain and suffering related to the visit, but that was rejected by the court.
The ruling stated that Koizumi's visits were made in his official capacity, though officials have argued they were private. Koizumi signed the shrine visitors' log with "Prime Minister" and arrived at the grounds in a government car.
A defiant Koizumi dismissed the distinction between official and personal shrine visits, and said he would go to Yasukuni again.
"I don't know why it violates the Constitution. I go there as prime minister and as an individual," Koizumi told reporters. "I'm both a public and private person. I will continue my visits there."
The government did not immediately announce whether it would appeal the decision.
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