A state minister in Mr. Shinzo Abe's cabinet, Mr. Keiji Furuya, visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine is at least explainable. But the president of the United States visiting the shrine that enshrines Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken as god and goddess?
What's the point?
To honor the current emperor by paying respect to his great-grandfather, I suppose.
Emperor Meiji is the great-grandfather of the current emperor of Japan, although his great-grandmother is a concubine of Emperor Meiji. (The Empress was childless.) Meiji Jingu shrine was built in 1920.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Chidorigafuchi Cemetery to honor the war dead when they visited Japan in October 2013. There I thought it was the beginning of a new tradition that would help de-emphasize Yasukuni. I was wrong.
Visiting Meiji Jingu shrine seems devoid of meaning, which fits Mr. Obama's presidency rather well.
From The Japan News by Yomiuri (4/20/2014):
Obama will visit Meiji Jingu, museum during tour
WASHINGTON—The White House said Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Meiji Jingu shrine during his stay in Japan, as part of his tour to four Asian countries in late April.
Detailed schedules of Obama’s trip have also been released.
Obama will have a private dinner meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, and on Thursday they will hold a summit meeting to demonstrate unity between Japan and the United States toward the international community.
Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Japan as a state guest in 18 years, since a visit by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Obama will stay in Japan from Wednesday to Friday.
After leaving Japan on Friday he will then visit South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The private dinner will be held soon after Obama’s arrival in Japan, on Wednesday evening.
According to sources knowledgeable on Japan-U.S. relations, they will dine outside the prime minister’s official residence with the intention of deepening their relationship in a relaxed atmosphere.
On Thursday morning Obama will attend a welcome ceremony in the Imperial Palace, followed by the summit meeting and a joint press conference.
In the afternoon, the U.S. leader will visit the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and Meiji Jingu shrine, before meeting with Japanese business leaders.
In the evening, Obama will attend a banquet at the Imperial Palace.
At a press conference Friday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice commented on Obama’s forthcoming tour of Asian countries, saying that it will be an important opportunity to clearly express the United States’ continuing focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Despite being a "state guest", the status of which will cost the host country extra few million and require Japan's Emperor and Empress to host a lavish banquet for the guest, Mr. Obama won't be accompanied by his wife, leaving many Japanese puzzled.