Ministers visit controversial war shrine

08/16/2012
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TOKYO (majirox news) — Two Japanese Cabinet ministers plan to visit Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, to pay their respects to the war dead enshrined there.

The shrine generates controversy because not only ordinary soldiers and sailors died in the war are there. In the 1970s 14 convicted Class A war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni. These included General Hideki Tojo, the Japanese prime minister who was seen as responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hanged for war crimes by a US-led tribunal.

“I am visiting in a private capacity, because I’ve been visiting the Yasukuni Shrine with my father since I was a child,” said Land and Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata. “I have continued to visit after I became a member of parliament.”

Minister Hata’s father briefly served as Prime Minister of Japan in 1994. The Yasukuni Shinto shrine is dedicated to those who died fighting for Japan in World War Two. Nearly 2.5 million men and women who died in the service of the Imperial Forces are enshrined there.

Minister of The Public Safety Commission Jin Matsubara said, “Since I’ve been visiting there every August for more than two decades, I made the right decision.”

This is the first visit by ministers from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since taking power in 2009. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stayed away from the shrine and has requested his cabinet also refrain from visiting in an official capacity.

Minoru Moriyama, a visitor to the shrine, said, “I respect the personal decisions made by the two ministers to visit this shrine. Every year the matter of the war criminals becomes a big issue. However, those criminals were also victims of the war. This is also my first time for me and my wife to visit Yasukuni Shrine since my father and my wife’s father died in the war.”

The topic still continues to incite controversy among Japanese people.

Kenji Koyama, another visitor to the shrine, said, “It is fine for the two ministers to visit and pray at this shrine. It’s up to them. I came from Ehime prefecture with 110 other people. We came here to show our respect to all these people who died in the war.”

However, according to some foreign countries such as China and South Korea, politicians visiting the shrine implies support for Japan’s colonial and imperial past. Others see it simply as respect for those who gave their lives for their country.

When Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine as Prime Minister, this created controversy and a chill from China. However, the proposals to dedicate a secular memorial to the war dead have yet to take root, and Yasukuni Shrine remains as the symbol of the national memory to those who died in the war.

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