Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo paid his latest visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Saturday, but described it as “a private matter.”
The visit immediately draw protests from China, South Korea and Taiwan later in the day.
“I did it as a private matter which I am free to decide,” Shindo said in an interview after the trip, which was contentious because other Asian nations, especially China and South Korea, view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it honors Class-A war criminals.
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to refrain from visiting Yasukuni ahead of a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on April 24 in Tokyo, Shindo’s move came earlier than last year and well ahead of the shrine’s annual spring festival from April 21 to 23.
Shindo visited Yasukuni four times last year: in April; on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II; in October; and on New Year’s Day.
Amid strained ties with China and South Korea over historical and other issues, the Abe administration has left it up to each Cabinet minister to decide whether to visit the shrine.
“This once again shows the mistaken attitude of the current Japanese Cabinet toward history,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. China has lodged a formal protest with Japan, he said.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry earlier issued a statement also denouncing the visit.
“The international community is jointly voicing criticism and worries about Japanese politicians’ retrograde remarks and actions,” the ministry said, according to Yonhap news agency.
“The Japanese Cabinet member’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that glorifies (Japan’s) past aggressions, made again in defiance of the international worries, constitutes a head-on challenge to the neighboring countries that suffered from Japan’s past imperialism as well as to the international community,” the statement said.
Japanese politicians should make efforts to mend South Korea-Japan ties through “humble retrospection on their history,” it added.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized Shindo’s repeated pilgrimages to the shrine since assuming his post for “deepening distrust in the region and being unconstructive.”
“The Japanese government and politicians should draw lessons from history and work for the peace and prosperity of the region with an attitude of responsibility,” it said.