Abe, ministers, Diet members visit shrine

by Reiji Yoshida and Tetsushi Kajimoto

Amid heightened attention on Japan’s wartime past, 47 Diet members visited contentious Yasukuni Shrine together Monday, the 60th anniversary of the nation’s surrender.

Health minister Hidehisa Otsuji and Environment Minister Yuriko Koike made separate visits to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in the afternoon.

At least four other Diet members visited separately, including Shinzo Abe, deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party and a possible future prime minister. Yasukuni, which honors the nation’s war dead as well as 14 Class-A war criminals, is an acute source of tension, especially with other parts of Asia subjected to Japan’s wartime attacks.

Monday marked the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to end the war. Veterans and relatives of the war dead have strongly urged lawmakers and Cabinet ministers to visit the shrine on Aug. 15. Harshly critical opponents of such visits, particularly China and South Korea, regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s prewar militarism that led the country on a path of conquest.

After paying his respects, Abe told reporters he visited Yasukuni Shrine out of respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Noting that senior political figures have visited Yasukuni, Abe said he hopes neighboring countries can come to understand Japan’s efforts to contribute to world peace in the postwar era.

“In the 60 years since the end of the war, (the nation’s top leaders) including our prime ministers, have visited Yasukuni to pray for peace and put their hands together in prayer before the spirits of the war dead,” Abe said.

All the while, the nation “has cooperated with international society for peace and to protect free and democratic society,” he said.

Whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would visit the shrine had long been a focus of international attention, but as of Monday afternoon he had yet to make an appearance.

On Friday, he indicated he did not intend to visit Yasukuni on or around Aug. 15 and cause further international friction.

When he was first elected president of the LDP, Koizumi pledged to visit the shrine on Aug. 15. But he has yet to fulfill that promise because of strong protests from China and South Korea. He has made annual visits on other dates since his inauguration in April 2001, drawing intense condemnation each time.

Of the 47 Diet members who went to the shrine Monday, 45 are with the LDP. Two are Democratic Party of Japan members of the House of Councilors — Yuichiro Hata and Hideaki Tamura, a former senior Air Self-Defense Force official. Twenty-three of the LDP members are from the House of Representatives.

The group was led by former Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara, but he did not appear at a scheduled news conference after the visit, citing urgent business.

Instead, Upper House member Yasu Kano, director general of the group, attended the briefing but declined comment on the flak the visit is expected draw from other parts of Asia, especially China and South Korea.

“The chairman is not here. I cannot comment on that,” she said.