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Statement on the Prime Minister's Proposed Visit to Yasukuni Shrine

Norio Sakai
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Rissho Kosei-kai

July 9, 2001

The Honorable Junichiro Koizumi
Prime Minister of Japan

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Rissho Kosei-kai has the deepest respect for the firm resolve to undertake structural reform that you have demonstrated ever since the inauguration of your cabinet. Most Japanese citizens have high hopes for this reform stance, and your words and deeds are having an extremely great impact on the public.

You have repeatedly stated your intention to visit Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II. These statements have aroused deep doubts and created emotional turmoil among the Japanese, who are about to unite in tackling structural reform and "sharing the pain," as well as among the people of neighboring Asian countries, who seek continuing peace and friendship with Japan.

As a member of Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan), Rissho Kosei-kai entirely supports the "Statement of Opinion Regarding [the Prime Minister's] Comments on Visiting Yasukuni Shrine" submitted by Shinshuren on July 9, 2001, and also wishes to express an opinion based on its own position.

Before and during World War II, Rissho Kosei-kai was subjected to severe religious restrictions under the military regime of the day. The founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, the late Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, and many other officials and ordinary members of the organization suffered repeated violations of their freedom of religion, and many of its members sacrificed their precious lives in the war. These experiences have imbued Rissho Kosei-kai with the determination to uphold freedom of religion and the separation of religion and the state at all costs. Deep remorse for the war has led it to offer prayers for all the world's war dead and for peace, honoring the spirits of all who have been killed in war and vowing never again to wage war or to allow war to be waged.

Almost all religious organizations share this position. Each prays for the spirits of the war dead and for peace in accordance with its own rites. In addition, Rissho Kosei-kai's primary purpose is the "bodhisattva practice" of dedication to the welfare of society and all people, as taught in the Lotus Sutra, the organization's basic scripture. In keeping with the founder's teaching that true Buddhists wish not only for personal peace of mind and repose after death but also for the peace of society, all members devote themselves to this practice.

In regard to politics in particular, Rissho Kosei-kai firmly upholds the principle of separation of religion and state. It has consistently adhered to the following tenets: not to create a political party, not to lean toward a particular party or grouping, to support worthy politicians, and to monitor politics and take firm action whenever freedom of religion is endangered.

So far, Rissho Kosei-kai has highly evaluated the way in which the Liberal Democratic Party and successive cabinets have upheld freedom and democracy and taken a balanced approach in managing the affairs of state. Your recent expression of your intention to visit Yasukuni Shrine is most regrettable, since such a visit runs the risk of infringing freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and even deviating from the principle of separation of religion and state. We strongly urge you to rethink your intention to visit Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister. We believe that this is the wish of not only Rissho Kosei-kai but also most other religious organizations and their adherents.

In the religious world, Rissho Kosei-kai has always pursued dialogue and coordination through interfaith cooperation. In the past, when questions involving Yasukuni Shrine arose, the late Rev. Niwano, as chairman of Shinshuren, appealed to religious circles, insisting that Yasukuni Shrine, as a religious corporation, should be under the protection of the people not the state, in view of the shrine's religious nature and its history. His appeal gained the general understanding and support of the public and religious circles. Rissho Kosei-kai is deeply concerned that your visiting Yasukuni Shrine will check the current of interfaith cooperation for human happiness and peace and lead to religious antagonism.

It is not necessary to point out that Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine based on the Shinto religious tradition and actually is venerated and protected today by many of the sovereign people, in keeping with their individual feelings and religious beliefs. This being the case, Rissho Kosei-kai is gravely concerned about the matter of official visits to Yasukuni Shrine constantly becoming a subject of political controversy, which goes against the keen wish of not only the spirits of the war dead but also the many surviving family members and other people of good will who pray for the repose of those spirits.

From this viewpoint also, you as prime minister, the most public of public figures, should strictly refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, an act that is unconstitutional in all probability and one that Rissho Kosei-kai can never condone. We respectfully submit this opinion, asking again that you demonstrate the wisdom to reconsider your decision.

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