Japan grappled yesterday with fallout from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to a Tokyo war shrine, as diplomats reportedly worked to mend frayed ties with China and South Korea amid a wave of criticism at home.
Police, meanwhile, linked a right-wing extremist to what was apparently an arson attack against a Koizumi critic.
The blaze late on Tuesday destroyed the house of lawmaker Koichi Kato, who had spoken out against Koizumi's visit earlier in the day to Yasukuni Shrine, which critics say glorifies Japanese military conquests.
Police said yesterday the 65-year-old suspect in the attack, who was found in the building suffering from an apparently self-inflicted abdominal wound, was a member of a Tokyo-based right-wing group, the kind that staunchly supports Yasukuni.
A separate report said Japan's Foreign Ministry was attempting to arrange a summit with China and South Korea by year's end to improve relations that were further undermined by Koizumi's shrine pilgrimage.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said it was premature to nail down details but that Tokyo is interested in improving relations with its neighbors and that "there could be efforts along these lines."
Koizumi, who intends to step down next month, dealt a blow to Japan's ties with its neighbors on Tuesday by visiting Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the especially symbolic date of Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Koizumi defended his visit by saying he went to pray for peace and to honor fallen soldiers, not to celebrate militarism. Dozens of lawmakers also offered prayers there on Tuesday. The shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals from World War II, and many in Asia and at home see it as proof that Japan has not fully atoned for its past aggression.
The pilgrimage was widely criticized in several newspaper editorials yesterday.
The Asahi Shimbun said, "It created a deep divide in the country over the question of how to mourn for the war dead, sparked a narrow-minded nationalism and pushed diplomacy into a deadlock."
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun said the trip was "self-righteous" and would "create the diplomatically damaging impression that Japan still refuses to face up to its bloody militaristic past."
Even the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said Koizumi's issue will only fuel further debate.
"The next prime minister has to tackle the problems Koizumi will leave left behind regarding this issue," the Yomiuri wrote.
"Deeper discussions should be held among the Japanese public, too," it said.
To smooth ties, the Foreign Ministry is now aiming for a meeting between Koizumi's successor and leaders of China and South Korea on the sidelines of an APEC summit in November, or at an ASEAN gathering the following month, the Yomiuri said, without citing sources.
Koizumi made his pilgrimage to the shrine despite complaints from China and South Korea and several days of demonstrations in Tokyo by those who feel the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism. It was his sixth visit there since taking office in 2001.
The pilgrimage immediately brought rebukes from Beijing and Seoul, while the US State Department urged the three nations to work harder to "build good, constructive, neighborly, transparent relations."
Koizumi is scheduled to leave office at the end of next month, which means his successor -- likely Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe -- will start his term with fresh diplomatic troubles.