Three of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet ministers visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, in a move likely to infuriate nations that view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
The visits by Eriko Yamatani, disaster management minister, Haruko Arimura, minister in charge of female empowerment, and Sanae Takaichi, internal affairs and communications minister, came just a day after Abe met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia — a meeting regarded as a sign of slight reconciliation after a period of icy relations.
Yamatani, also head of the National Public Safety Commission, visited the Shinto shrine in the morning, becoming the first minister in the Cabinet to do so during the shrine’s three-day annual spring festival that started Tuesday. Arimura visited the shrine shortly afterward.
Takaichi visited the shrine in the afternoon. Takaichi told reporters that she went there to pay her respect and show gratitude for the souls of those who died in the war.
All three ministers also visited the Shinto shrine in October last year during its annual autumn festival.
Abe refrained from visiting the shrine and instead sent a ritual offering on Tuesday. But any visit to the shrine by his ministers could trigger an outcry from Japan’s neighbors, throwing cold water on efforts by Japan and China to improve ties.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga brushed aside concerns that the ministers’ visits may affect Japan-China ties, at a press conference shortly after Yamatani visited the shrine.
“Her visit has been made in a private capacity,” the top government spokesman said.Yamatani told reporters later that she has expressed her “gratitude to the spirits of the war dead” who fought for the country.
Abe met with Xi on Wednesday for the first time in about five months, at a summit of Asian and African leaders in Jakarta. The two did not discuss Yasukuni issues during the meeting, according to Japanese officials.
At the talks, Abe assured Xi that he will uphold past government apologies over World War II, including a 1995 statement that offers a “heartfelt” apology to the people of Asian nations affected by Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression” during and before the war, a senior Japanese official said.
Yasukuni has been a source of diplomatic friction as it honors wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other convicted Class-A war criminals, along with over 2.4 million war dead.
Past visits by prime ministers and Cabinet ministers have drawn criticism from China and South Korea, both of which suffered under Japan’s wartime brutality.
The opposition parties criticized Yamatani’s decision.
“She should have considered the timing” of the visit, Yoshiaki Takaki, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters, referring to the Abe-Xi meeting hours earlier.
Yamatani also visited the shrine during the autumn festival in October last year and said last week she will “appropriately decide as a member of Abe’s Cabinet” whether to visit the shrine.
On Wednesday, a total of 106 lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties visited the shrine.