This was an absolutely beautiful shrine. What is of course, most interesting, is the political turmoil that surrounds it. It is a memorial to those who died in war, and it also includes convicted war criminals. Come on a holiday to observe the people who go--you see families, protesters, and also those in military garb paying their respects. It is a very interesting experience overall, and great for those who have learned about it in textbooks.
The best times to visit this shrine are for the cherry blossoms (at the end of march and beginning of april) and on August 15th. War vets put on their old uniforms to pray for the souls of the Japanese who died in war. Yakuza come to pay their respects, right wingers try to attach left wingers who come in protest, and the riot police comes to keep everything in order. If you want a taste of the political tensions and living history in Japan, go on August 15th.
I came here on an early Friday evening and noticed some crowds--some tourists and some locals enjoying the grounds. The architecture here is beautiful, and it's labeled well for tourists. For example, most statues have English descriptions as well as Japanese. I learned that, despite all of the media, Yasakuni Jinja gives equal recognition to war dead from before World War II, and even honors horses who died in the war. In addition, the area wasn't as solemn as one would think it to be. I saw plenty of young children playing and enjoying the day as well as others sitting in the shade of the trees.
The museum is interesting but a little steep at 800 yen. There are a few areas for sitting and eating or reflecting, and multiple vending machines.
I really think Yasukuni Shrine is sometimes a little under-rated and left out of tourist plans. I think Yasukuni might actually be more interesting to visit compared to Meiji Jingu. First of all, there are hardly any crowds and you can actually really appreciate and enjoy the shrine. Additionally, Yasukuni Shrine has constantly changing ikebana (flower arrangement) on display in the back left hand corner area. There are always new ikebana on to see, representing the seasons and the flowers in bloom. I truly suggest adding Yasukuni Shrine into any traveler itinerary.
Yasukuni is a Shinto shrine that honors Japan's war dead. On its official list are over 2 million soldiers and other who served and/or died for the Emperor, among which are 14 World War II Class A war criminals. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made frequent pilgrimages to this downtown Tokyo shrine while in office, inciting international furor over the implicit honoring of men responsible for human rights abuses, particularly in Korea, China, and Taiwan.
Yasukuni is quite a tourist draw simply for the international controversy, although the site itself does not contain anything particularly unique. It does have some very, very big Torii (Shinto entrance gates) and the building it self is very well kept, so if you're in for a jinja visit it may as well be Yasukuni.
School children often visit on school trips, but otherwise you'll mostly find older Japanese coming to pray or take pictures themselves.
Yasukuni is a 5 minute walk from the Shinjuk Kudanshita Metro station.