National

Koizumi pays visit to Yasukuni early

Pledged trip on surrender day nixed

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was set to make his planned controversial visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on Monday afternoon instead of on Wednesday’s anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, sources close to him said Monday.

The decision to visit the shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, at around 4:30 p.m. was conveyed to top officials of the governing coalition by Koizumi’s aides earlier in the day, the sources added.

Since assuming office in April, Koizumi had expressed his desire to pay his respects at the shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of the war.

However, the idea drew fierce criticism from China and South Korea because Yasukuni honors 14 Class A war criminals in addition to about 2.5 million war dead. Many coalition lawmakers also expressed concern about the proposed visit.

The prime minister decided to pay his respects on a different day because it became apparent that such resistance could adversely affect his leadership, the sources said.

The visit would be the first by a serving prime minister since Ryutaro Hashimoto went to the shrine in July 1996 to pay his respects on his birthday.

According to the sources, Koizumi would sign the shrine’s visitors’ book with his title of prime minister, but would refrain from clarifying whether the visit is official or made in a private capacity. He would also not follow the traditional form of Shinto prayer, in consideration of the Constitution’s separation of state and religion, they said.

The prospect of Koizumi visiting on a day other than Wednesday emerged after a lengthy meeting last week involving Koizumi, Yamasaki and Koichi Kato, a former LDP secretary general, at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Yamasaki and Kato counseled the prime minister not to visit the shrine Wednesday to avoid a diplomatic furor that could distract his government at a time when it needs to focus on delivering on its pledges for structural reforms.

New Komeito, one of the LDP’s coalition partners, also expressed concern about Koizumi visiting the shrine on Wednesday.

But other lawmakers were urging Koizumi to stick to his vow to visit Yasukuni, calling it a pledge to the general public and warning that should he opt not to go, this could be politically damaging domestically.

Two floral arrangements offered and paid for by Koizumi were placed at the shrine Monday morning.

The flowers, bearing messages of “Floral tribute from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,” were placed on the right and left sides of the “honden” main sanctuary shortly before 6 a.m., when the gates opened to the public, shrine officials said. , adding that the flowers will be in place there until Sunday. Koizumi contributed the money to the shrine for the floral tribute Saturday through his secretary, sources close to the prime minister said.

Koizumi instructed his secretary the same day to see to it that an offering of flowers is made for the main sanctuary, government sources said.

Envoy urges restraint

SEOUL (Kyodo) The Japanese diplomatic mission in South Korea has asked that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi refrain from paying a controversial visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, according to diplomatic sources in Seoul.

The “request” — an unusual action by a Japanese overseas mission — was made in July in an official document issued under the name of Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Terusuke Terada, the sources said Sunday.

The move apparently reflects simmering anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea already heightened by the approval by the education ministry in Tokyo of a contentious history textbook penned by a group of nationalistic scholars.

The textbook has caused outrage in South Korea and China for allegedly glossing over Japanese aggression in Asia before and during World War II.

In April, Koizumi promised to visit the shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

If he goes ahead with the visit despite Seoul’s urging against it, Japanese diplomats in Seoul apparently believe the rift will deepen further, according to the sources.

The Shinto shrine, regarded by some as a symbol of extremist nationalism, honors about 2.5 million Japanese who died in wars since the mid-19th century. Since 1978, Yasukuni has also enshrined seven Class A war criminals tried and hanged after World War II, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, a wartime prime minister.

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