With the governing Liberal Democratic Party set to elect its new leader in September — when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi step downs as LDP president (and hence as prime minister) some LDP lawmakers are proposing ways to solve the ongoing row over Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Visits to the shrine, which honors Japan’s Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead, have stirred disputes with China and South Korea.

Several proposals have been aired, including enshrining Class-A war criminals at a separate facility, building a new national monument for the war dead, and expanding the existing Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery for the War Dead in central Tokyo into a national memorial park.

Meanwhile, many are wondering whether Koizumi will make his sixth visit to the shrine as prime minister on Aug. 15, the day commemorating the end of World War II in 1945.

Roiling the debate over Yasukuni last week were newspaper articles about a memorandum left by a former Imperial Household Agency grand steward. The memorandum said Emperor Showa had expressed strong displeasure over Yasukuni Shrine’s decision in 1978 to honor Class-A war criminals and had stopped visiting the shrine as a result.

In May, former LDP Secretary General Makoto Koga proposed enshrining Class-A war criminals at a separate facility. The proposal, coming from the leader of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, caused a stir because, under the constitutional principle of the separation of state and religion, the government is in no position to force Yasukuni to agree to a separate enshrinement. It is unlikely that Yasukuni will agree to the proposal.

On June 15, a group of lawmakers from the LDP, its coalition partner New Komeito and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan published an interim report urging the government to build a nonreligious national monument for mourning the war dead and praying for peace. The report said the prime minister’s visits to Yasukuni might have violated the constitutional principle of the separation of state and religion and that it was illogical for Yasukuni to honor A-class war criminals who did not die in action but were convicted in the Tokyo war-crimes trials. This proposal was basically the same as a recommendation made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda’s private panel in December 2002.

On June 23, LDP policy chief Hidenao Nakagawa proposed that the Chidorigafuchi cemetery be expanded to let foreign dignitaries pay tribute to Japan’s war dead. A newly created LDP panel on July 7 began discussions on Nakagawa’s proposal. The cemetery was completed in 1960 to house the remains of 350,000 unidentified Japanese military and civilian personnel who died overseas during World War II. Because they are unidentified, the remains cannot be placed in ordinary family tombs.

In an article published in the August issue of the monthly magazine Chuo Koron, Kaoru Yosano, minister for economic and fiscal policy and financial services, wrote that a permanent facility for memorial services should be built at Chidorigafuchi to hold an annual ceremony on Aug. 15 for mourning the war dead.

In a TV program broadcast July 2, Taku Yamasaki, former LDP vice president and the leader of a group advocating the construction of a national monument for the war dead, supported the proposed expansion of the Chidorigafuchi cemetery to create a nonreligious national memorial park for the war dead.

On July 9, I made my first visit to Chidorigafuchi, which is 1.6 hectares — smaller than Yasukuni. Under the shadows of camphor and zelkova trees, it was quiet and somber; the atmosphere was conducive to meditation.

At the center was a hexagonal hall for housing the ashes of the dead, and on its side were monuments on which poems by the Emperor Showa and the current Emperor are inscribed. I felt that the atmosphere was much more peaceful than at Yasukuni, which has a military museum, a giant shrine gate and the towering statue of Masujiro Omura, the founder of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Critics have said Chidorigafuchi, as a national monument for the war dead, would degrade Yasukuni and would lack the proper dignity. Yet, when it was built, the government officially announced that it would serve as a symbolic facility for interring the remains of all who died in the Asia-Pacific War, starting with the China Incident.

In the United States and Europe, the tomb of the unknown soldier is the center of national mourning for the war dead. Yasukuni, by contrast, was the symbol of Japanese militarism. Chidorigafuchi, which entombs many unknown soldiers, is a fitting symbol for a Japan that made a new start under the pacifist Constitution.

During his five-year rule, Koizumi strengthened the Japan-U.S. defense alliance but sent diplomatic relations with China and South Korea to all-time lows by making repeated visits to Yasukuni.

There are growing fears in political circles and the business community that the Yasukuni row could affect Japan’s economy and trade. In April, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, a major business lobby, urged Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni and proposed establishing a national monument for mourning the war dead and renewing pledges of no more wars. Koizumi, who rejected the proposal, saying that politics and economics are unrelated, should heed the business community’s concern over his unilateralism.

In the looming LDP presidential election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who takes basically the same position as Koizumi with regard to Yasukuni, is widely considered the top contender. There is speculation that if Abe succeeds Koizumi, tensions with China and South Korea will continue.

Relations with Beijing and Seoul are not the only problem; the focus of the Yasukuni issue is how to treat Class-A war criminals. Enshrining Class-A war criminals along with the war dead at Yasukuni can be interpreted as denying the policies and principles established as a result of the U.S.-led postwar occupation and the Tokyo war-crimes trials. Failing to resolve the Yasukuni issue could yet inflame U.S. Congress and public opinion. If that happens, Japan-U.S. relations, which Koizumi has valued more than anything else, could be undermined.

To prevent the Yasukuni row from spreading to the U.S., Koizumi should end the five-year dispute once and for all by adopting the proposal for expansion of the Chidorigafuchi cemetery.

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