Tokyo In a visit that took just a minute but may have repercussions far into the future, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi defied critics and visited Tokyo's contentious Yasukuni Shrine this morning, praying for the souls of the country's 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals from Japan's imperial era.
With police helicopters thudding overhead and bodyguards clearing his path, Koizumi strode briskly to the Shinto shrine's outside altar where the public congregate to pray.
His visit stopped short of Yasukuni's more spiritual inner courtyard, which he has entered on four occasions since becoming prime minister in April 2001.
This appearance seemed designed to strike a more accommodating tone with those critics at home and abroad who have urged him to stay away from the nationalist shrine. Koizumi wore a gray business suit instead of a morning suit or kimono as he has in the past.
The effect was to make the visit seem less formal and conform to Japan's constitutional separation of religion and politics. Two weeks ago, a Japanese High Court ruled that Koizumi's previous visits to Yasukuni had been unconstitutional because he attended a religious institution in a clearly official capacity.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly warned Koizumi that Yasukuni visits are an obstacle to better relations between Beijing and Tokyo.