TOKYO, Japan – A never ending war has stirred controversy again. Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, sent cabinet ministers to Yasukuni Shrine to mourn the dead, a notorious temple where convicted “Class A” war criminals are included. PM Abe himself did not visit the shrine, but sent ritual offering instead.
Friday, August 15th, marked the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. About eighty Japanese lawmakers and two cabinet ministers visited Yasukuni angering neighboring victim countries of the war, such as South Korea and China. Yoshitaka Shindo, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, was one of them, and he was not worried about diplomatic tensions that would be caused by his visit. “Many valuable lives perished in the war. I came here to pray so that something like this will never happen again,” he said.
Yasukuni Shrine lists the names, origins, and birthdates of the dead, approximately 2.5 million including soldiers and civilians. Japanese politicians regularly visit Yasukuni not only to mourn the dead, but also to attract the attention of Japan’s conservative voters. Every year, diplomatic disputes arise among the far-east Asian countries because 1,000 convicted war criminals are buried together in Yasukuni including fourteen “Class A” war criminals. Japanese right-wing voters argue that the visits are merely a non-political way to pay respects to the dead. South Korea and China consider them as glorifying Japan’s militarism at the time of the war.
Men dressed as Japanese imperial army soldiers of World War 2 marching at the Yasukuni Shirine on the anniversary day (REUTERS)
Some world media outlets have focused on the fact that PM Abe did not visit the temple and proposed that his absence was a diplomatic gesture to the neighboring countries. The Washington Post delivered an article under the title, “Japan’s Abe avoids Yasukuni Shrine in hopes of meeting with China’s Xi Jinping.” A German media outfit, Deutsche Welle, had an interview with Shihoko Goto, an analyst of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, who stated that Abe’s decision not to visit Yasukuni was “a step in the right direction.” According to Goto, his decision “doesn’t mean he won’t consider visiting the controversial shrine again someday in the future.”
The tension between these countries was heated even after the anniversary day as a Japanese media outlet, Asahi Shimbun, revealed on August 27th that PM Abe sent a written message to the war criminals earlier this year. Abe wrote a message for a ceremony honoring the war criminals, stating that they “sacrificed their souls to become the foundation of the fatherland.”
A South Korean Foreign Minister spokesperson denounced Abe’s message at a recent press briefing, saying “the Prime Minister’s recent words and behavior is to negate the postwar order and make us suspect reflections and apology Japan has shown over the war of aggression and colonial rule in the past.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said “the Japanese government needs to sincerely reflect on its history of aggression and make a clean break with militarism that provides an important foundation for Japan to rebuild and develop relations with its Asian neighbors after the war.”