Abe visits Yasukuni, angering Beijing and Seoul

Trip expected to fire up hard-liners, bring about 'huge repercussions'

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, the first anniversary of his second stint as prime minister.

The visit worsens the odds of a summit with leaders of China and South Korea, countries that regard Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. The visit also coincided with the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong’s 120 birthday.

Abe arrived at the shrine around 11:30 a.m. to pay his respects to the millions of war dead enshrined there. Class-A war criminals, most notably wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, are also among those enshrined.

Inside the main building he bowed in a Shinto ceremony and made a donation out of his own pocket.

Abe is the first prime minister to visit Yasukuni since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.

Facing reporters at the shrine, Abe repeatedly stressed that he was not there “to pay homage to war criminals,” as many have claimed, but rather to pray for peace.

“Some people criticize a visit to Yasukuni as something to pay homage to war criminals, an idea based on misunderstanding,” Abe said.

“I paid a visit to show (to the war dead) my determination to create an age where no one will ever suffer from tragedies of wars,” he added.

Yasukuni enshrines millions of Japanese soldiers who died for the state in modern wars. During the 1930s and ’40s, it served as a spiritual pillar for members of the military and their families. But it also enshrines 12 convicted Class-A war criminals and another two suspects who died in prison before their rulings were handed down at the postwar International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or Tokyo Tribunal.

Abe’s visit immediately drew harsh reactions from China and South Korea.

Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua lodged a protest at the Foreign Ministry. Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean government official as saying Abe’s visit will draw “huge diplomatic repercussions” from Seoul.

Experts warned Abe’s visit is likely to give more momentum to anti-Japan hard-liners in the leadership of China and South Korea.

The two countries will now find it more difficult to strike any political compromises with Japan over territorial disputes, most prominently the Senkaku islets in the East China Sea, they said.

“Hard-liners are always looking for some reason (to urge top leaders) to be tougher against Japan. Now you can say Japan is no doubt leaning toward the right,” said Bonji Ohara, a research fellow at Tokyo Foundation.

Until this fall, Abe had offered to hold summits with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts, repeating that his door for dialogue was always open. Beijing and Seoul weren’t interested.

With little chance for a summit with China and South Korea anytime soon, “probably Abe could not wait any more,” Ohara said.

Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, warned that Abe’s visit will also damage his reputation among political leaders in the United States and Europe and adversely affect Japan’s diplomacy as a whole.

“This will damage the national interests of Japan,” he said.

Abe appeared to be well aware of the political and diplomatic risks he was running. Facing reporters, a grim-faced Abe repeatedly stressed he had come to the shrine to pay his respects to the war dead, without political overtones.

“It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people,” Abe said.

But when asked to comment on the responsibilities borne by the enshrined wartime leaders, Abe offered no direct response.

“Based on our soul-searching over the past, we have protected basic human rights and built up the democracy and freedom of Japan after the war,” Abe said.

A conservative nationalist, Abe has dedicated most of his political energies to economic issues since his inauguration last December.

His relatively soft approach to China and South Korea has earned the ire of core nationalist supporters, who may now be appeased by the shrine visit.

During the campaign for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in the fall of last year, Abe said, “it was extremely regrettable” that he could not go to Yasukuni during his first prime ministership from 2006 to 2007.

At a news conference later Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted Abe visited the shrine in a private capacity and should be allowed to enjoy freedom of religion.

  • Denny Pollard

    Both China and South Korea need to mind their own business when it comes to states shrines such as Yasukuni Shrine. Yasukuni Shrine is the national shrine for all war dead in Japan regardless of what they did it is still a scared place to all Japanese. The shrine initially created by Emperor Meiji to commemorate any individuals who had died in service of the Empire of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. However, those buried there has been expanded since opening in 1867.

    China and South Korea use the Yasukuni Shire as a symbol to attack Japan and they have no right to tell the sovereign state of Japan that their government leaders and emperor cannot pray at the shrine. Just like, they cannot tell the U.S. president not to pray at Arlington National Cemetery for their war dead.

    Why is it only China and South Korea that raise a stink over Japan paying respects to all the dead at Yasukuni Shrine. Prime Mister Abe is very correct is paying respects as the leader of Japan for all war dead good and bad.

    I would like the national media for once stand up and point out these two countries have no right telling Japan not to show respect for their dead at their national shrine. Showing respect for dead is part of the culture of Japan and has always been. Both China and South Korea could stand to learn a little respect for their neighbor who has made an about face since the end of WW2. Without Japan, both of these two countries would still be third world. Thanks to Japan for investing in both countries and bringing industry to them, they are what they are.

    In all fairness, I do not see Japan pointing a finger at either China or South Korea and pointing out internal issues with them, it’s not the Japanese way.

    • DA

      See my reply to the previous poster. South Korea and China have valid reasons to be angry as Yasukuni can in no way be likened to Arlington! Try to do some more background reading and you will hopefully see through Yasukuni shrine and find out what it’s really about (revisionism and the glorification of the war). I love Japan with all my heart but some things about this country really make me sad.

    • ghostwan

      What would you say if Angela Merkel would pray in a tombstone where nazi warrior or hitler would be buried ? Don’t you think French or English wouldn’t be upset by this event ? There is 14 class A war criminal like nazi in this shrine, why not removing the soul to allow respect for the others souls.

      • Kamemura Hidetoshi

        Well, the West is different from the East after all, in culture, religion, language, customs, and yes how to regard the dead souls. Here in Tokyo, Japanese people go to Yasukuni NOT to glorify the past as China and Korea claim, but to soothe those dead souls who had to die for the country without any choice and had to leave the loved one so early. We go there NOT to praise the things those souls did, but to pledge firmly that we will NEVER ever wage the war again: we will NEVER create the unfortunate and sad circumstance or time once those innocent souls were forced to be put into through the course of history; we should never ever repeat the same sad history. Is that such an awful thing?

      • ghostwan

        All nazi soldiers didn’t to awful things by choice, they maybe did it by constraint, but even if in a cemetery there would be buried with poor souls no political leader in Germany would do the mistake to pray in this cemetery.

        Abe knows by going into this shrine he will upset half of asians countries whose suffer of Japanese invasion during WW2. And many time Abe even question the Japanese invasion during WW2 :
        http://shanghaiist.com/2013/04/24/shinzo_abe_denies_japan_invaded_neighbours_during_ww2.php

        He is a dangerous negativist who play with fire in a unstable region.

      • Kamemura Hidetoshi

        So you are saying Hitler and Tojo should be discussed in the same context and to the same extent to which what situations they were facing and intentions they had respectively back then? I believe there’s room for that to be debated further and that’s one of the major points that historians have different perspectives on. Having said that, I think we Japanese tend to think History(esp, when it comes to the horrific event like war) is not mere fabric of black and white; there is always gray zone and more intricate, convoluted turns and twists of behind the scene events and intentions and emotions. Therefore, we should be humble on the past and be more cautious about such a black/white view on the historical view. It should be more complicated than we(after generations later with new ethical standards and common sense in hands) can just imagine. What do you think? Am I wrong?

    • Scott Reynolds

      “Yasukuni Shrine is the national shrine for all war dead in Japan regardless of what they did it is still a scared place to all Japanese.”

      I strongly dispute this statement, and I think it is at the root of the view that Abe’s visit to Yasukuni is acceptable or even praiseworthy.

      First, Yasukuni Shrine is not a national shrine in the way that, say, Arlington National Cemetery is a national institution honoring America’s war dead. Since 1946 Yasukuni Shrine has been privately funded and operated. Furthermore, the private individuals who run the shrine actively promote a revisionist view of history that attempts to justify the Japanese war of aggression in the 1930s and 1940s. They also reject the verdict in the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, which in contrast the Japanese government officially endorses. This is why they made a point of enshrining the Class A war criminals. Additionally, they have enshrined all of the lower level war criminals as well, so far as I know.

      Second, Yasukuni Shrine is not a scared place to all Japanese. Not by a long shot. In fact, making such a statement is an insult to the many decent Japanese people who are appalled by the revisionist chauvinism of the Uyoko, the LDP bigwigs like Abe, and the people running Yasukuni Shrine.

      Make no mistake: paying one’s respects at Yasukuni Shrine is not about praying for peace or honoring the war dead. It is a political gesture intended to advance a right-wing, revisionist agenda.

      • xexex

        Thank you for making this post. It sums everything up nicely.

    • Ted Joffs

      Having been to China, Vietnam, Japan, US, Peru, Ireland, England, Whales, Germany, Etc… I can say without pause that while China may have a large GDP it is most certainly a 3rd world country still. The US is getting close.

  • SC Kang

    Prime Minister Abe’s Maternal Grandfather was Nobusuke Kishi. Kishi was a cabinet member of the Class A War Criminal Hideki Tojo. Kishi was initially classified as Class A Criminal, but was never brought to trial. In time, he become Prime Minister of Japan. I am not too surprised at Abe’s Visit. Still, it got as diverse as South Korea and China to react very badly for giving a report to war criminals that were executed properly for their heinous crimes against humanities.

  • Ted Joffs

    US Embassy Tokyo:
    Seriously disappointed in your comments regarding Yaskuni Shrine. The
    visits to the shrine are akin to the President of the United States
    visiting the WWII memorial, and nothing more. The people that are
    remembered in the shrine are merely people that served their country and
    families — often without choice. A country abandoning their citizens,
    dead or alive, that honorably served is the true abomination. Had we
    (the United States) lost WWII, would we treat our citizens as you are
    expecting Japan to treat its? I truly hope not.

    • chris0101

      This isn’t your typical war shrine we are talking about.

      The equal would be the German Chancellor or President visiting a museum that honored SS members who died during WWII. It would provoke international outrage were that to happen (Germany does not have such a memorial).

      There is a lot of controversy over the issue, to say the least.

  • sensi

    When the Japanese people have done electing pitiful ultra-nationalists and historical revisionists, who will honor war criminals while feigning that they aren’t, order revisionist school-books to brainwash in historical falsehoods younger generations, buy far remote and hardly Japanese islands to cause regional mayhem, then they will maybe start to become decent and respectable. Until that they have all my contempt.

    • Richard Bergeron

      While I understand there are historical debates between Japan and South Korea/China, the textbook revisions appear to be very much one-sided. From my research into Japanese history textbooks, there is a large emphasis on peacekeeping, and much of the WW2 contents agree with what’s being taught here in the US.

      As for the territorial debate, I have no idea why neither SK nor China are willing to go to the International Court of Justice. If their current stances to simply refuse to bring the case to ICJ continues – and their excuses are to say “we believe there is no territorial dispute” – I don’t quite see any validity in their argument.

      On a final note, I believe that national leaders should visit and pay homage to the past generations that have sacrificed their lives for their countries, and Abe is right to do so. I think the core of the issue is that Yasukini is the only sizable and renowned shrine that is dedicated to honoring war-time victims. At the same time, it is strategically unsound for Abe to visit Yasukuni, as it simply gives SK and China more weapons to unjustly insult Japan. (Read up on latest comments by SK’s president on Japan – it’s actually pretty ridiculous, especially coming from a fellow first-world country)

      • Scott Reynolds

        Is not true that Yasukuni is the only suitable place in Tokyo to pay one’s respects to Japan’s war dead. The Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery is where Abe should have gone, and had he done so no one would have criticized him (except for his right-wing followers, who would have wanted him to go to Yasukuni). Yasukuni is for people who want to glorify or justify the war; Chidorigafuchi is where people go who want to solemnly honor the sacrifice of the countless Japanese servicemen who gave their lives for their country. 
        Please note that foreign dignitaries visit Chidorigafuchi to honor Japan’s war dead. Recently John Kerry and Chuck Hagel did just that. 

  • CS

    I have been there several times. It is a nice place, and the museum is quite interesting actually. Gives a different perspective from the usual one-sided propaganda written by the victors of WWII. You don’t have to agree with it, but the museum has the right to express its perspective, and it’s obviously too complex a subject for you to simply label it as “wrong”. Regardless, the museum is separate from the actual shrine anyway, so kind of a moot point.

  • Ted Joffs

    Actually, I have been there. Yes, I do know of the museum, but that does not preclude them from allowing visits to honor the dead who fought for their country. The museum is also a separate entity from the shrine, and as such is out of the picture. Now, had Abe gone to the museum and prayed for the power to see the war finally finished with Japan’s victory — yeah that might be a problem. That is not what he did. He also made it a very strong point to mention that he was only honoring the ancestral dead of Japan. I imagine this is very similar to what we do when we visit Arlington, VA. Yes, I have been there too. I also know that many American war museums that I have visited seem to gloss over the myriad of war crimes the US committed during WWII and does not have accountability for because it won. In either case, honoring ancestral dead for valor, honor, and service for their country is not wrong.

    What the US is doing by agreeing (in sorts) with China to simply maintain good standing to keep the trade contracts in place IS wrong, short-sighted, and petty.

  • ghostwan

    “So while China was busy celebrating the birthday of a tyrant that committed genocide on his own people” As you said Mao did bad thing against is own people, so if someone has to be chocked by this celebration, this is a Chinese matter. The 14 A criminals did action against foreign countries, those countries have the right to be outraged by the celebration of criminals souls