Eight former Japanese leaders and the speaker of Parliament's powerful lower house are discouraging Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi from making further visits to a war shrine opposed by China, an aide to the speaker said yesterday.
Concerned that the visits are fraying diplomatic ties with neighbors, House speaker Yohei Kono and the eight former prime ministers agreed Wednesday to urge Koizumi to reconsider his apparent plan to make a visit this year. The Yasukuni shrine honors executed war criminals among Japan's 2.5 million war dead.
"It cannot be denied that the cause of the sudden chill in relations between Japan with China and South Korea are Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine," Kono said, according to an aide.
The aide said the mandarins agreed that "Prime Minister Koizumi should stop his visits to Yasukuni Shrine," and that Kono was awaiting an opening in Koizumi's schedule to convey the group's concerns.
The extraordinary statement reflects growing consternation about them from within Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its smaller coalition partner, the New Komeito Party.
Koizumi has visited the shrine four times since taking office in 2001. The visits have fanned claims by China and other critics that Japan has never shown repentance for its brutal military occupation of China and other parts of East Asia in the 1930s and 40s.
Kono told ex-prime ministers he believed the group had an obligation to try and steer Tokyo from policy missteps.
Several former prime ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone, Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomo Hata spoke separately with Kono earlier in the day and said they were also "very worried" about the fallout over Koizumi's Yasukuni visits, the aide said. Questioned in Parliament about his visits Thursday, Koizumi was typically defiant.
"I do not go to Yasukuni to pray to class-A war criminals. I go to show respect and gratitude to the many war dead who sacrificed their lives," he said.
"I've been called self-righteous but I simply cannot fathom that criticism," Koizumi said, reiterating that he will make "an appropriate decision" about whether he will visit again this year.
Beijing demanded that Koizumi halt the visits. But Koizumi -- keeping his pledge to the party's conservative wing -- has said that he worships there to honor the country's war dead and pray for peace.
A feud erupted anew last week when Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly canceled a meeting with Koizumi during a visit to Tokyo, and left the country. Chinese officials later said Koizumi's comments about his Yasukuni visits had ruined conditions for Wu's visit.