Since conservatives close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined his Cabinet in a reshuffle last month, there has been speculation that visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo by Cabinet ministers may resume after a halt of 2½ years.
Ahead of an autumn festival at the shrine — which honors Class-A war criminals along with the war dead — set for Oct. 17, some within political circles have voiced concern that any ministerial visit to Yasukuni on the occasion may trigger a backlash from China and South Korea. The two Asian neighbors regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Whether Cabinet ministers should visit Yasukuni “is an issue about an individual’s freedom of religion, something the government should not dig into,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura told a news conference Tuesday.
Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, after his comeback as prime minister in 2012. He has not visited the shrine since then, and has instead made masakaki ritual offerings for spring and autumn festivals.
No Cabinet minister has visited the shrine since Sanae Takaichi, then internal affairs minister, did so in spring 2017.
During her previous tenure as a Cabinet minister, Takaichi never missed a visit to Yasukuni for the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals and on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
In an interview after Takaichi assumed the post of internal affairs minister again in September, she refrained from commenting directly on whether she would visit Yasukuni, saying just that “it’s a matter of scheduling on a personal basis.”
Seiichi Eto, minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, also visited Yasukuni Shrine when he was in his previous post as a special adviser to the prime minister.
After joining the Cabinet, Eto said in an interview, “I haven’t decided (whether to visit the shrine) but want to make careful consideration.”
The upcoming autumn festival will continue through Oct. 20.
Leaders and senior government officials of many foreign countries, including China and South Korea, are set to attend Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement proclamation ceremony on Oct. 22, while Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Japan in spring next year.
Some Japanese ruling party officials are calling for self-restraint from Cabinet ministers about visiting the controversial shrine. “I don’t want any minister to throw a chill over Japan-China relations that have started to turn favorable,” said a senior official of Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner.