[ Taken with my Pentax K-1000 film / My original]
Many tourists will express an interest in visiting the most contentious shrine in Japan - Yasukuni. Should they or shouldn't they is a matter of personal prerogative, but to say "no" they are not allowed to visit a war-linked shrine would be like making a value judgment call on them. Some tourist may feel intimidated by all the negative press surrounding this shrine, and may even steer clear of it all together. That is up to you/them...Allow me to clear things up a bit by at least dispelling some of the negative rumors and misinformation by The Press surrounding the shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine has no dead remains buried under its premises, and it does not honor war criminals. In other words, no one goes there to chant and burn candles for war criminals and neither do they perform incantations to bring them back from the dead, so you are safe, don't worry. You do not have to fear anything at all. The photo above is a young lady who appears to be very patriotic and a person who loves her country. This display of national pride is no different than any other country. She is not honoring war dead, she is honoring the sacrifice of all of her people who died in service of her country. The flag she is holding was adopted as the official flag of Japan in 1999 and is called the Hinomaru - it has been around much longer. The flag on her back with the disk and sun rays has been in existence since before the war. These flags do not honor war criminals.
That is not to say that some of those who visit the shrine are not radicalized, or those who remember the glory days of WWII. This too is their prerogative as such it is their country. Every country has them.
Yasukuni pre-dates WWII and was established by Emperor Meiji to those that have sacrificed their lives since 1869! Before you were born. When visitors or the bereaved approach the main altar they pray for peace and reflect on the war and war dead, including animals involved in all wars and services since Emperor Meiji's reign. Way before your time and way before WWII, and way before any war criminals were remembered here.
As a tourist, you are not required to be a historian nor are you required to believe the revisionist. Like any other shrine you may visit you take with it what you see, hear, and experience. Yasukuni Shrine is no different than that experience. The only difference is that it is a linked to events that changed the whole world.
A good way to experience visiting Yasukuni Shrine is to first visit the Yushukan War Museum, and this is the most important starting point. It is a really well thought out museum with lots of interesting artifacts dating back to the great Boshin Wars and more. The layout of the museum is also well arranged and very easy to move around. You can see airplanes and even a train in its original form. The museum is quite big, so it will take some time to move around it. There's a lot to see and read in both Japanese and English. The list of names of those in all wars were written in Japanese and some English.
There were men, women, and even non-Japanese who served in wars for Japan. Several dozen Canadians, Americans, Koreans, Ainus, Asians, and even women who died in the service of the Empire of Japan. After leaving the museum you may want to have a lunch in the park adjacent to the main altar next to the No stage. It will take some time to digest what you see and what you take in.
As for when you should visit is completely up to you. August 15th seems to be the most contentious time to visit Yasukuni because of WW2. This date commemorates the Victory over Japan Day, and is the day most people visit the shrine, including tourist. If you choose to go on this date be prepared for a spectacle of nationalism. You'll hear war music and old timers dressed in military uniforms. Actually, it is the most interesting time to visit here because you get to see live demonstrations and meet lots of people and hear their stories.
For the bereaved who visit the shrine yearly to pay homage to their fallen loved ones do so in August because it is that time of year when all Japanese return to their hometowns to honor their passed loved ones. In other parts of Japan this season, called "obon", is held a month earlier, but for the most part August is the month where companies in Kanto region close their offices and sent their workers home for a week. Many return home to honor loved one's gravestones and welcome the return of ancestors.
The shrine itself is supported by the people of Japan through donations and is therefore not paid for by tax dollars. When the former Occupational Authorities wrote up Japan's current day constitution The Separation of Church and State was clearly written out and Shinto was no longer a matter of the State. As a result, the shrine stands on its own and is another reason why government officials are not to use tax money to offer the shrine. Even Abe Shinzo pays out of his own pocket to the shrine.
On a diplomatic level, State level officials are discouraged from visiting Yasukuni. In spite of that, many Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni for reasons that are both personal and symbolic. And as long as it is not on the tax payer's dime it should be perfectly fine if a politician chooses to do this.
However, the prime minister and Emperor will most likely never set foot on Yasukuni, and this is not because of the stigma associated with wars, but in order to protect regional peace, and to suppress nationalistic fervor and for posterity.
Misconceptions about the Emperor of Japan not wanting to visit are just rumors by overzealous and ignorant journalist both in Japan and in the West. The shrine was founded by the emperor and all interred there died in his name - millions. Need I say more without sounding like a mouthpiece for the Imperial Household Agency? You get the point.
On a final note, as a tourist, getting to Yasukuni is below:
5 minutes walk from Kudanshita Station (Hanzomon Line)
5 minutes walk from Kudanshita Station (Toei Shinjuku Line)
10 minutes walk from Ichigaya Station (Namboku Line)
10 minutes walk from Ichigaya and Iidabashi stations (Yurakucho Line)
Revisionist vs. Revisionist
Everybody is a revisionist at some point. The classification of War Criminal vs. Judicial Martyr is interpreted differently here in Japan. War criminal conviction was handed down by the the United States of America, whereas judicial martyr was defined by the Japanese, and this why the bereaved can still receive pensions from their lost loved ones who sacrificed their lives during WW2.