Tens of thousands of people braved a sweltering Monday in Tokyo to pay their respects to the nation’s war dead on the 60th anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.

At Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward, an estimated 6,500 people took part in the 19th National Memorial Ceremony.

Masao Horie, president of Eirei-ni-Kotaeru-Kai (Group to Honor the Souls of the War Dead) and one of the event’s organizers, slammed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for not showing up at Yasukuni to pay his respects.

“As the representative of the state as well as its people, (Koizumi) should visit Yasukuni,” Horie said, noting such a visit on Aug. 15 to honor the dead soldiers would “be the first step to possessing a true Japanese spirit — and to show that (Japan) is standing independently, without giving in to other countries’ sentiments.”

Many view Yasukuni — where 14 Class-A war criminals are honored along with some 2.46 million war dead — as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. China and South Korea have strongly protested Koizumi’s annual visits to the shrine, but he has so far refrained from going this year and has yet to pay a visit on Aug. 15.

“Only at sacred Yasukuni can we worship those heroes who died for the Japanese people, who died for our country,” said Takeo Hiranuma, a former minister of economy, trade and industry.

“Koizumi dissolved the House of Representatives because postal privatization was his public commitment, but visiting Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 was supposed to be his No. 1 commitment,” Hiranuma said. “And I believe that as prime minister of Japan, Koizumi should fulfill (this promise) no matter what.”

Aside from the gathering’s participants, some 205,000 people paid their respects at Yasukuni on Monday, according to shrine officials.

One visitor, who did not give his name, said his visit serves as an annual reunion with his military school classmates.

“We must not become complacent about peace, and never forget that we are here alive because the people honored at Yasukuni (gave) their lives,” the 76-year-old said. “Visiting Yasukuni on this day is part of Japanese culture that should be handed down from generation to generation.”

But at the Japan Education Center, in Chiyoda Ward’s Jimbocho district, some 300 people attended an event organized by relatives of war dead who are against politicians visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

Shigenori Nishikawa, of the National Liaison Conference of the Association of War Dead for Peace, said group members cannot fathom why Koizumi thinks he should not be criticized for visiting the shrine.

“We have not forgotten the historical fact that Yasukuni Shrine served as the spiritual pillar of militarism,” Nishikawa said, maintaining the nature of the shrine has not changed, as its museum exhibits justify past wars and it actively invites young people to join its support group.

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima took part in a memorial event at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Chiyoda Ward, where the ashes of some 350,000 unknown soldiers are enshrined. The cemetery is some 400 meters from Yasukuni.

Fukushima maintained that the prime minister’s visits to the Shinto shrine violate the Constitution’s separation of state and religion and that his actions trigger concerns by the Chinese and South Korean people that Japan wants to again embark on the road to militarism.

“What we have to do for the world, particularly for the people of Asia, is admit Japan bears responsibility for being the aggressor, pay clear compensation and renounce war,” she said.

Mariko Takemura, 25, of Kanagawa Prefecture, who studied at a university in England, said Cabinet ministers should not visit the shrine, given the feelings of the Chinese and South Korean people and the constitutional separation of state and religion.

“Their visits to the shrine harm relations” between young people in Japan and other countries in Asia, Takemura said.

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