Internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, as well as a cross-party group of about 100 lawmakers, paid homage Friday at war-linked Yasukuni Shrine during its autumn festival, a day after a visit from a different Cabinet minister drew criticism from China and South Korea.
Takaichi was the second Cabinet member to visit the shrine this week, following Seiichi Eto, minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, who visited on Thursday.
“I visited the shrine as a Japanese citizen. Paying respect and offering gratitude to the people who lost their lives for the nation is normally done in any country,” Takaichi claimed after the visit, adding that she also sent a ritual offering at her personal expense.
The number of lawmakers visiting was larger than during the shrine’s festivals last autumn and this spring, which each saw about 70 politicians visit. Often a source of diplomatic friction, the Shinto site is viewed by Beijing and Seoul, both victims of Japan’s wartime aggression, as a symbol glorifying its past militarism.
The group included members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party for the People and Nippon Ishin no Kai.
Yasukuni Shrine honors convicted war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, along with over 2.4 million war dead. Past visits by politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013, have angered Japan’s neighbors.
Abe as usual refrained from visiting in person and instead sent a ritual offering on Thursday, the first day of the four-day festival.
“I visited the shrine as a private citizen and I don’t think it will have diplomatic ramifications,” Eto claimed to reporters on Friday. Both Eto, who became the first Cabinet member to visit the shrine in over two years, and Takaichi are believed to have conservative views similar to Abe’s.
The festival comes at a time when Japan has seen ties with China thaw but relations with South Korea worsen sharply over a dispute dating back to World War II.
China said Thursday that Abe’s ritual offering and Eto’s visit reflected their “wrong attitude” toward history — a form of words less harshly critical than in the past.
South Korea expressed deep regret but did not step up its criticism ahead of South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon’s visit next week for Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on Tuesday. Abe and Lee are scheduled to meet.
Ties between Tokyo and Seoul have sunk to the lowest level in years since a series of court rulings in South Korea last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
The rulings run counter to Japan’s position that the issue of compensation was settled finally and completely in a 1965 bilateral agreement.
Abe has said Japan should continue dialogue with South Korea despite the spat, but also says it is Seoul that should remedy the situation.
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