Marking the 67th anniversary of the end of World War II, two Cabinet ministers on Wednesday paid what they said was a private visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine, the first by such high-ranking politicians since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in 2009.
The visits may be an indication that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s power is waning, as he had asked his Cabinet “not to make an official visit” to the Tokyo shrine dedicated to the nation’s war dead.
Jun Matsubara, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, and transport minister Yuichiro Hata insisted their visits were not official.
“This is a private visit,” Matsubara, well-known for his conservative views, told reporters afterward.
“I followed my heart and took action as a Japanese national.”
Noda visited nearby Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery for the unidentified war dead.
Many parts of Asia view Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression, as it also enshrines Class-A war criminals, most notably Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Japan’s diplomatic ties with South Korea and China have already been strained recently by territorial disputes.
Noda also appeared at the annual ceremony for all Japanese war dead at Nippon Budokan.
The event, which commemorates the 3.1 million service members and civilians who died in the war, drew about 6,000 relatives of the war dead. According to the health ministry, the oldest living relative was Fumi Shimakura, 98, whose husband, Ishichi, died on Luzon Island in the Philippines in June 1945.
During the ceremony, Noda offered his prayers for those who died in the war and expressed remorse for the damage inflicted on neighboring states.
“During the last war, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. I hereby express my feelings of profound remorse and sincere mourning for the victims of the war and their bereaved family members,” Noda said.
He also vowed never to repeat the ravages of war and to continue his efforts to rebuild after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Also attending the ceremony were Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, the heads of both Diet chambers, Cabinet ministers, lawmakers and representatives from various walks of life, including business leaders and the media.
Takahiro Yokomichi, speaker of the Lower House, said Japan needs to stop relying on nuclear power. The nuclear crisis has robbed the residents of Fukushima Prefecture of “their homes and regular lives,” he said.
“We must deeply reflect on and strive to change our energy policy with a mid- to long-term vision that includes ending Japan’s nuclear dependence,” Yokomichi said.