Debates on a new state-run war memorial center proposed by some ruling bloc and opposition lawmakers are unlikely to get very far in the foreseeable future because caution remains strong in the Liberal Democratic Party-led government.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo last Thursday drew strong protests from China and South Korea and even attracted criticism from the United States.
Behind these reactions is the fact that, among those honored at Yasukuni are some of the nation’s wartime leaders who were executed as Class-A war criminals, including former Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.
Yasukuni is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism by China and South Korea because it served as the spiritual backbone of the war effort. Under Shinto, the emperor was a god.
To prevent issues related to the shrine growing into a diplomatic spat, some lawmakers are calling for the formation of a new memorial center that would controlled by the state, rather than a Shinto facility. But that’s not a popular idea with the current government or with Abe himself.
“There are various opinions, and we should study the matter carefully,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Friday.
Separately, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said it wasn’t even being discussed. “We have no concrete plan at present to start debates.”
Discussions about building a new war memorial were held after Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni in 2001 during his prime ministership.
In 2002, a private panel set up by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda compiled a report saying Japan should establish a permanent, nonreligious, state-run war memorial. But the proposal was left for dead due to strong opposition within the LDP.
There are no signs that any debate on the issue will be revived under the Abe government, especially since Abe is its main opponent.
“A big problem is how (relatives of those enshrined at Yasukuni) would feel” if a new facility was to be built, Abe told a meeting of the House of Councilors Budget Committee in May.
Conservatives in the LDP agree with Abe. “I don’t think the proposed new facility would be useless, but what I would feel about it should be different from my feeling toward Yasukuni,” said Koichi Hagiuda, a member of the House of Representatives and a special adviser to Abe.
An LDP member who was a Cabinet minister said Japan already has a national memorial facility, referring to the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in central Tokyo. A new facility “would be meaningless because people will keep visiting Yasukuni,” the person said.
During their visit to Japan in October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel went to Chidorigafuchi, which is a nonreligious facility, and laid flowers there instead of at Yasukuni.
Their choice was apparently intended to convey that Abe should stay away from Yasukuni, some officials said.
Hoping to end the controversy, some ruling bloc and opposition lawmakers are studying the idea of enshrining the Class-A war criminals at a facility separate from the shrine. The shrine officials are opposed.
On Friday, Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, said a new facility where even the Emperor can go and pay respects should be actively explored as a way to solve the Yasukuni issue.