A group of 96 members of Japan's parliament, or Diet, visited a controversial war-related shrine yesterday in defiance of disapproving Asian neighbors, local media reported.
Repeated visits by Japan's politicians, especially Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo have drawn strong protest from China and South Korea, as well as other Asian nations that suffered under Japan's often brutal occupation during World War II.
Fourteen Class-A war criminals are among the more than 2 million war dead worshipped at the Shinto shrine.
Policy makers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and other minor parties visited the shrine, where annual spring rites are being held.
Although Koizumi has visited the Yasukuni Shrine every year since he took office in April 2001, he did not join the 96 members of the 722-seat Diet who visited the shrine this time.
The LDP's coalition partner and Buddhist-related party, the New Komeito, did not send any members to the shrine because the party opposes Koizumi's Yasukuni visits, citing the Constitution.
The Article 20 of the Constitution stipulates that "the state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity."
Makoto Koga, a former LDP secretary general and House of Representatives member, said that no foreign leaders should ask the Japanese government to stop the routine visits to the shrine.
"It is quite natural to pay respect for those who devoted their precious lives to the state of Japan," Koga was quoted as saying after yesterday's visit.