Photo/IllutrationWorshippers mourn the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, the day Japan announced its surrender in World War II in 1945. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The chief priest of Yasukuni Shrine has resigned after accusing Emperor Akihito of trying to “crush” the religious facility by refusing to visit and honor the war dead memorialized there.

The Shinto shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward announced the resignation of Kunio Kohori, 68, in a statement released on Oct. 10.

Kohori came under fire after the Shukan Post weekly magazine reported on his comments made at a meeting in June with Shinto priests and shrine workers. He lashed out at Akihito and other members of the imperial family because they have stayed away from Yasukuni Shrine.

“Don’t you agree that the more the emperor is dedicated to traveling (to former battle sites) to console the spirits of the war dead, the more he will move away from Yasukuni Shrine?” Kohori said, according to the magazine. “To put it bluntly, the emperor is trying to crush Yasukuni Shrine.”

Kohori also raised concerns about what will happen after Akihito abdicates in April next year and Crown Prince Naruhito takes over the throne, according to the magazine.

“Do you think the crown prince will pay a visit to the shrine after he becomes the new emperor? She, who will become the new empress (Crown Princess Masako), abhors Shinto and shrines,” the magazine quoted Kohori as saying.

The magazine, which said it had obtained an audio recording of the 110-minute meeting, published Kohori’s comments in the combined Oct. 12-19 issue.

In the statement, the shrine acknowledged the veracity of the magazine’s report, saying the recording of the chief priest’s “extremely inappropriate” words had been leaked.

The statement also said Kohori has visited the Imperial Household Agency to apologize for his remarks and convey his intention to resign.

Neighboring countries regard the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism and aggression largely because 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II are enshrined there along with the nation’s war dead.

The shrine was founded in 1869 by the Meiji government. After the war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni in 1978, Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, stopped making pilgrimages to the shrine.

Visits to the shrine by leading Japanese politicians inevitably spark anger in China and on the Korean Peninsula.

Akihito, who became emperor in January 1989, has never visited Yasukuni.

But he and Empress Michiko have traveled to a number of former war sites, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa Prefecture, to pay tribute to people who lost their lives in World War II.

They have also flown to former battlegrounds in Saipan, Palau and the Philippines to honor those killed in the fighting.

A crucial issue for Yasukuni Shrine is whether Akihito will visit before he abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Kohori became the chief priest in March. His successor will be chosen at a general meeting of the shrine on Oct. 26.