Japanese Prime Minister Juni-chiro Koizumi denied yesterday that his visits to a Tokyo war shrine encourage nationalism, and instead accused the media of stirring up controversy by closely reporting on his pilgrimages.
Koizumi also denounced publicly for the first time a right-wing arson attack on the home of a prominent politician who widely criticized the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine two weeks ago.
Koizumi's six visits to the Yasukuni shrine -- the most recent on Aug. 15 -- have enraged China and South Korea, two victims of past Japanese invasions who consider the shrine a glorification of militarism.
"Absolutely not," Koizumi said when asked by reporters if he meant to fan nationalism with his visits. "But it is true that there are people who are trying to do so."
"You should stop making reports that lead to our country being criticized by other countries, or encourage it [nationalism] in other countries," Koizumi said in comments before leaving on a trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Public polls after his latest pilgrimage have indicated rising domestic support for his visits, especially among younger Japanese, prompting concerns about a rise of nationalism.
Koizumi also denounced the right-wing extremist-linked arson attack on the residence of senior lawmaker Koichi Kato. Kato's house was torched on Aug. 15, just hours after he made several public statements criticizing Koizumi's Yasukuni visit.
"Using violence to suppress speech is unforgivable," Koizumi said. "We must ensure the public understands the importance of respecting freedom of speech."
The blaze on Aug. 15 destroyed Kato's house in northern Japan, and police have linked the 65-year-old suspect in the attack, who was found at the scene suffering from an apparently self-inflicted abdominal wound, to a Tokyo-based right-wing group.