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149 lawmakers visit Yasukuni

Two Abe Cabinet members among LDP ranks to take in shrine on eve of Obama's arrival

by Tomohiro Osaki and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

A total of 147 lawmakers, as well as two Cabinet ministers, visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday morning, in a move that could be perceived as provocative by China, South Korea — and even the United States.

Internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the shrine ahead of the group Tuesday, the second day of its annual three-day spring religious festival, in what he called a “private” capacity, following another private visit April 12.

Shindo’s first visit was seen as an attempt to avoid controversy ahead of the planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, who was scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Wednesday.

But the second visit — just a day before Obama’s arrival — could be perceived by the U.S. as a provocative gesture after Washington put strong pressure on Abe not to visit the shrine, which honors Class-A World War II war criminals as well as nearly 2.5 million Japanese war dead.

Asked about possible angry reactions from China and South Korea, Shindo told reporters that he believes the personal nature of his visit would deflect any criticism from the Asian neighbors.

He also denied Obama’s trip in any way affected his decision to visit the shrine.

“I have always made my decisions to come here on my own,” he said.

Later the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government has maintained a policy noninterference in Cabinet ministers’ decisions to go to Yasukuni, as long as they go there in a private capacity.

“We believe it is only a matter of course to pray for people who fought and sacrificed their precious lives for the sake of one’s country,” Suga told a news conference.

“We understand (Shindo) visited in a private capacity. This is a matter related to freedom of religion,” he said.

Later on the day, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato separately visited the shrine.

The group of nearly 150 lawmakers regularly visits the shrine for religious festivals held every fall and spring.

Among the lawmakers who visited the shrine, those from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party topped the list with 118, followed by Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) at 22.

Abe himself avoided visiting the shrine this time, instead offering a “masakaki,” or decorative tree used in Shinto rituals, for the spring festival.

While Tokyo will be the first stop on Obama’s weeklong Asia itinerary, Hidehisa Otsuji, an LDP Lower House lawmaker who heads the group in favor of visits to Yasukuni, declined comment on any connection between his shrine visit and Obama’s trip.

Noting his own father is enshrined at Yasukuni, Otsuji said: “I have continued visiting the shrine together with members of this group for decades now. All I can say is that I carried through on this tradition as usual. Nothing else.”

Otsuji, stressing his understanding that the shrine’s war dead are those “who sacrificed their lives in their utter devotion to the nation they love,” added: “I believe the prime minister decided to (dedicate the masakaki) after he contemplated what would be in the best interests of Japan. I have no issue with that.”

Abe paid a visit to the shrine last December in what he also described as a private capacity, drawing unusually explicit criticism from Washington, which expressed “disappointment” over the visit.

Keiji Furuya, another Cabinet minister who chairs the National Public Safety Commission, also made a visit Sunday.

  • William

    I’m think I’m missing something here.
    WWII was a really dark period of time where a lot of horrible things happened and neither side came out with clean hands.

    So…why are people who died 60 years ago getting more attention than 300,000 people who are still holding on after what happened 3 years ago?

    I respect both are important to the Japanese today but….why don’t the 149 visit the Tohoku region and spend more time there?

    Surely they could have a look at the working conditions of the clean up workers or the housing conditions of the displaced people couldn’t they?

    • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

      3/11 cast a great deal of embarrassment upon Japan when it revealed how horribly TEPCO was maintaining the plant in Fukushima. The plight of those still suffering from it, among other things, needs to be kept hidden to keep up the facade Japan is trying to maintain for the upcoming Olympics. This constant agitation of it’s Asian neighbors make for a good distraction from what’s still going on in Fukushima.

      • JTCommentor

        I think thats a bit far fetched.

        Most of the misdirection regarding Fukushima happens at home, and that is mostly by selective reporting by the Japanese press. Other than comemorative silence on anniversaries and so on, the situation there is barely mentioned, while wholly unimportant and trivial domestic issues get front page press for weeks. That is terrible. But this has been happening long before Tokyo won the Olympics. Just as lawmakers have been visiting this shrine for long before the great eastern earthquake.

        William’s point, on the other hand, is a good one. These stubborn fools would be better served doing something to assist present day Japan, rather than this. But stupid is as stupid does, I guess.

      • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

        One point that completely slipped my mind was the passing of the State Secrets Bill. If I understood correctly, matters regarding nuclear power were one of the few things clearly outlined as a secret protected by the bill. I don’t know how heavily it’s actually been enforced since it’s passing, but I’m sure there’s an increased reluctance by domestic reporters now to cover Fukushima.