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Japanese shrine courts controversy

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Yasukuni Shrine -- a 20-building complex on 25 acres of land in Tokyo built 132 years ago -- honors Japan's nearly 2.5 million war dead from both civil and international wars since 1853.

The shrine is part of Japan's Shinto religion, and its name translates as "the shrine for establishing peace in the empire." It is also a symbol of prewar nationalism.

Many Asians regard the shrine as a monument to militarism, and some Japanese see official visits to Yasukuni as bridging the separation of church and state.

The shrine has generated controversy because war criminals are among the soldiers honored there.

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Yasukuni became the focus of international attention after a secret ceremony in 1978 that enshrined 14 leaders convicted by an Allied war tribunal as war criminals for their roles in World War II.

The shrine was supported by the state until the end of World War II, but it was stripped of government patronage after Japan's 1945 defeat.

Inside the traditional wooden building, signs refer to figures such as war-time Prime Minister Hideki Tojo as "martyrs" who were "wrongly accused by the Allied Forces, which unilaterally labeled them war criminals under the pretense of a court trial."

The Japanese national flag, made an official symbol of the nation in 1999, flies from lampposts around the grounds.

The shrine shares the site with a war museum that includes cannons and missiles retrieved from battlegrounds of past wars.

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