TOKYO, June 3 (UPI) -- Political heavyweights in Japan have increased the pressure on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to refrain from visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
The high-profile move was orchestrated by Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono, who has pushed for closer Japanese relations with its Asian neighbors, the Asahi Shimbun reported Friday.
Kono invited five former prime ministers -- Toshiki Kaifu, Kiichi Miyazawa, Tomiichi Murayama, Ryutaro Hashimoto and Yoshiro Mori -- to his official residence in Tokyo to discuss Japan's deteriorating ties, particularly with China.
They all agreed that Koizumi should be "most cautious" concerning his policy of making annual visits to the shrine, where several war criminals are among those entombed.
One of the former leaders bluntly said, "He should not make more visits."
Although Kono said he was acting in a personal capacity and as a former foreign minister, he said he intends to convey the opinions directly to Koizumi.
It is very rare for the leader of the Diet chamber to invite former government leaders to discuss a specific issue and then jointly criticize the incumbent prime minister's behavior.