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At Shrine To Japanese War Dead, Little Peace For The Living

August 14, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Every year the old soldiers come to worship, and every year their numbers dwindle and their bodies are more frail.

Here at Yasukuni Shrine _ a leafy enclave in the middle of Tokyo whose name means ``peaceful country″ _ Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals, are enshrined as deities.

The shrine, built in 1869 as a memorial to civil war dead, has become a lightning rod for controversy over why World War II was fought _ a debate that still rages half a century after the war ended.

In the years before and during World War II, Yasukuni was a principal place of worship for Japan’s state religion, Shinto, which portrayed the emperor as a living god and Japan’s militarism as a holy war. Critics at home and elsewhere in Asia say the shrine now glorifies a war that was wrong.

On Monday, the eve of the anniversary of Japan’s surrender announcement, throngs of elderly men shuffled through the crowded grounds. Many leaned on canes.

Some wore World War II uniforms and carried Japanese battle flags. Most were dressed neatly in neckties and wore white porkpie hats against the blazing summer sun.

Minoru Uchino, now 84, was a sailor during the war. During one torpedo battle, men on both sides of him died before his eyes.

``I came here to show respect for those who were killed,″ said Uchino, a grandfather to 11.

This year, like every year, the shrine presents a prickly political problem for the government.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, expected to issue a statement expressing remorse over the war, is staying away, angering some veterans. But at least half of the Cabinet was expected to visit the shrine Tuesday.

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