89 lawmakers pay tribute at Yasukuni autumn festival

Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry, joined 88 fellow lawmakers Friday to pay tribute at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo during an annual autumn festival.

The politicians, members of a nonpartisan Diet group promoting visits to the Shinto shrine, included former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who along with Hiranuma is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.

LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki and his predecessor, Makoto Koga, as well as Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the New Conservative Party, visited the controversial war memorial in the morning.

The New Conservative Party is the smaller of the LDP’s two coalition partners.

Other participants included members of both houses of the Diet from the LDP and the New Conservative Party, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party.

A further 84 lawmakers sent representatives to the shrine.

Koga, chairman of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, which advocates an increase in welfare assistance to families of the war dead, said after paying his respects that he hopes prime ministers will be able to visit the shrine whenever they want to.

“What I hope for most is for the prime minister, who is the chief executive of Japan, to visit Yasukuni Shrine, regardless of the format,” Koga told a news conference, suggesting that the prime minister could visit in either an official capacity or as a private citizen.

He said the prime minister should be able to go to the shrine on any day he wishes, reiterating his view that it does not have to be on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of World War II.

Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine on Aug. 13 last year, attracting criticism from Asian countries including China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan’s military aggression before and during the war. This year, Koizumi visited the shrine in April.

A prime minister’s visit to the shrine on the war anniversary generates more controversy at home and abroad than a visit at any other time.

Yasukuni, widely viewed as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism, enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s 2.5 million war dead.

An advisory panel to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda is considering the possibility of creating a new memorial facility for Japan’s war dead to ease tension with neighboring countries, but Koga dismissed the idea, saying, “Yasukuni Shrine is indeed the only (war) memorial facility.”