Yasukuni shrine is an exception — it's an Imperial Shrine that's dedicated to Japan's war dead (the soldiers who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan).
It also houses a WWII museum (also very rare in Japan).
ControversyThere are around 2,466,000 departed enshrined as kami at Yasukuni. This includes anyone who died in combat for Japan in WWII (including civilian combatants).
In 1958, the shrine made the extremely controversial decision to enshrine 1,068 Class-B and Class-C Japanese war criminals. In 1978, they extended this to 14 Class-A war criminals.
This is widely considered an insult to the countries that were invaded or attacked by Japan in WWII. In 1978, the Emperor of Japan stopped visiting the shrine. However, many high profile Japanese politicians have visited the shrine since 1978 including former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (while he was in office).
This drew protest from China, Korea and Japanese citizens. Many Japanese felt that the prime minister's visits were a violation of Japan's constitution (separation of state and religion).
Koizumi's visits to the shrine are widely sited as the cause of major anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in 2006.
Political HotspotThe Tokyo Metropolitan Police's special riot control force is located just down the street from Yasukuni in Ichigaya. This isn't a coincidence.
Yasukuni attracts regular right wing demonstrations. It also attracts the occasional left wing demonstration. Usually, the right wing disrupts left wing demonstrations. In other words, it's a big mess.
Official events at Yasukuni attract a shadowy ultra conservative Japanese elite.
Torii, Buildings and MonumentsYasukuni shrine was founded in 1869 just after Emperor Meiji moved the capital to Tokyo.
The shrine's great gate (daiichi torii) was the biggest torii in Japan when it was first erected in 1923. It has since been replaced (1974). It's still one of the largest torii in Japan.
The shrine's inner gate is well known for its large wooden doors bearing the chrysanthemum crest (the Imperial seal).
History MuseumYasukuni's history museum (Yushukan) focuses on Japan's wars since the end of the Edo-era. It's an interesting place for history buffs.
The museum itself is a matter of some controversy. It's been accused of portraying Japan's role in WWII in a relatively positive light.
Visiting YasukuniDespite all the politics surrounding the shrine it's known for its autumn colors, sakura and the Mitama Matsuri.
Mitama MatsuriThe Mitama Matsuri is one of Tokyo's earliest obon celebrations held in mid-July. It's often over shadowed by right wing demonstrations. However, most of the festival's participants have no political agenda.
The festival is known for its stunning 30,000 lanterns that line the pathway to the shrine, obon dances and nebuta floats (light floats).
Yasukuni Shrine MapYasukuni shrine is in central Tokyo just northwest of the Imperial Palace.
The shrine can be accessed from Ichigaya and Kudanshita stations. It's located on Yasukuni dori (Yasukuni street).