Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday dedicated a masakaki tree offering to Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines not only Japan’s 2.34 million war dead but also Class-A war criminals. By not visiting Japan’s war shrine during its spring festival, Abe apparently tried to avoid frictions with the United States ahead of his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. Washington had said earlier that it was “disappointed” that Abe visited Yasukuni on Dec. 26.
Abe should realize that even if he did not visit the shrine this time, other countries will still interpret his dedication of an offering to the shrine as evidence that he supports the role the shrine played during Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s and that the prime minister is making light of Japan’s aggression against other Asian countries during the period.
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni in December followed his repeated statements that it was a “matter of the greatest regret” that he could not visit Yasukuni during his first stint as prime minister from September 2006 to September 2007. Although he refrained from visiting the shrine this time, he allowed two members of his Cabinet to do so. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited April 12 and Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and state minister in charge of the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals, paid a pilgrimage on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato visited Yasukuni, along with 147 ruling and opposition lawmakers, including Seiichi Eto, who is a close aide to Abe, and Shindo made a second visit.
Upon his visit to Yasukuni in December, Abe said, “Japan must never wage a war again … [and] must be a country which joins hands with friends in Asia and friends around the world to realize peace for the entire world.” In a TV program on Sunday, he said, “Putting hands together before the souls of soldiers who fought for their country is something the leader of any country naturally wants to do.”
Such statements by Abe ignore the basic nature of Yasukuni Shrine, which served as a wartime state ideological apparatus to mobilize the Japanese for war by instilling the idea that it is a great honor for soldiers to die for their country. The prime minister also should remember that the government’s invocation of Yasukuni was used to persuade soldiers — and by extension their families and the public at large — to accept death in battle in return for their enshrinement at Yasukuni.
Because of the shrine’s nature, Abe’s behavior leads other countries to doubt the sincerity of his no-war pledge. Moreover, the prime minister’s emotional attachment to Yasukuni tends to not only cause other countries to harbor suspicions about Japan’s overall direction but also gives certain countries reason to castigate Japan for political advantage.
To prevent the international community from developing a mistrust of Japan and to avoid putting Japan in a difficult position, Abe should not even dedicate an offering to Yasukuni, much less visit the shrine. And he should persuade his Cabinet members to refrain from going there as well.