Rightwing activists and visitors at Yasukuni Shrine were quick Wednesday to protest the Cabinet’s lack of “respect for the war dead” as all but one minister chose to steer clear of the contentious site.
Hundreds of rightwingers flocked to Yasukuni early Wednesday to honor the war dead and commemorate the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Many were clad in military garb and waved Hinomaru flags to the rhythm of blaring military marches.
“The war ended (62 years ago) today and it is natural for anyone to pay their respects for the war dead. I don’t see why that should even be an issue,” said Takenori Igashira of the rightwing group Nihon Kouseisha.
Dressed in military camouflage, the 23-year-old said he arrived at Yasukuni at 9 a.m. to “honor those who gave their life for the country.”
While miffed that except for Sanae Takaichi, minister in charge of gender equality and Okinawa-related issues, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet failed to show up at the shrine Wednesday, he praised former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for his visit earlier in the day.
“Abe and his Cabinet members have a lot to learn from Mr. Koizumi,” Igashira said.
Also praising Koizumi’s visit, Yosuke Sugano, an unaffiliated rightist, referred to Abe’s predecessor as “his excellency.”
“He did the right thing and I am proud of him. Other politicians should know that many people lost their lives to build the foundations of today’s Japan. It is obvious that everyone should pay their respects to them,” the 42-year-old said.
Some visitors, including Shuhei Nishimura, chose to level a quiet protest at Abe.
Holding a banner that called on the government to withdraw a 1993 apology by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono regarding Japan’s wartime sex slavery, Nishimura, 57, an accountant based in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, said he wasn’t surprised that most of the Cabinet did not visit the shrine.
“Politicians have yielded to pressure from overseas,” he said, suggesting Abe is weak-kneed for approving Kono’s apology, as well as prioritizing mending relations with China and South Korea.
Nishimura slammed any overseas criticism regarding Yasukuni, which honors Japan’s war dead, as well as Class-A war criminals.
“The concept of ‘Class-A war criminals’ was created just to facilitate the postwar trials against Japan. So I don’t think any country has the right to criticize the shrine for honoring the war dead, even if it includes Class-A criminals,” he said.
A 92-year-old housewife from Chiba Prefecture, who only identified herself as Date, also said she would have welcomed Abe’s paying his respects, regardless of any overseas outrage.
Date expressed displeasure that Class-A war criminals, who “forcefully commanded” Japan to enter the war, are enshrined along with her younger brother, who died in Southeast Asia during the war.
But she claimed it was still the right thing for any politician to visit the Shinto shrine on surrender day.
“Would it be so difficult for (Abe) to show his gratitude toward those who died for the country?” she asked.
Wearing a replica 1940s pilot’s uniform and clutching a wooden sword, a 52-year-old businessman who only gave his surname, Nakazawa, agreed. “It’s understandable that Cabinet members shy away from visiting here, especially since the (Liberal Democratic Party’s) defeat in the Upper House election.”