Foreign Minister Taro Aso was expressing his personal opinion when he said Emperor Akihito should visit Yasukuni Shrine, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Monday in a bid to ease the diplomatic fallout.
The Imperial Household Agency has said the late Emperor Hirohito and Emperor Akihito have not visited Yasukuni Shrine since 1975, “considering various social situations” and other factors of the times, Abe said.
Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Showa, visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.47 million war dead, eight times after World War II, making the last trip in fall 1975.
In 1978, the names of the Class-A war criminals were added to the Tokyo shrine.
Emperor Akihito has not visited the contentious shrine.
According to the Imperial Household Agency, Emperor Hirohito and Emperor Akihito have “taken a cautious stance” since 1975 because it is feared that such a visit could entail “political meaning or influence.”
“(Emperor Showa) paid a visit in the capacity of a private person,” Abe told a regularly scheduled news conference.
On Aug. 15, 1975, then Prime Minister Takeo Miki went to the shrine and drew criticism from opposition parties. Miki argued the visit did not violate the constitutional rule of separation of state and religion, claiming he went in the capacity of a private citizen, not as prime minister.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited Yasukuni five times, each time claiming he did so as a private citizen even though he signed his name with his title on the guest register. Each visit has been condemned by China and South Korea.
At a meeting with lawmakers from New Komeito, Aso reportedly said Saturday that it would be best if the Emperor, instead of the prime minister, visits Yasukuni because many solders honored at the shrine died saying “Long live the Emperor!” — not the prime minister.
Xinhua raps Aso
BEIJING (Kyodo) China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency has harshly criticized Foreign Minister Taro Aso for saying it would be desirable that the Emperor visit Yasukuni Shrine.
Xinhua reported Sunday that the remark was a serious political issue that reflects that Japanese leaders are not dealing with the country’s history accurately.
The news agency said Aso was trying to be misleading by saying China’s repetitive opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the shrine would make it difficult for the prime minister to stop doing so.
Xinhua also stated that Aso’s remarks, made Saturday, represents the position of rightwing forces in Japan.