Two Japanese Cabinet ministers said on Friday they were planning to visit Tokyo’s controversial war shrine next week, in a move likely to inflame sometimes shaky relations with neighboring countries.
The proposed visits would be the first by ministers in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since it came to power in 2009, and would contravene the wishes of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has asked his Cabinet to stay away.
Land and transport minister Yuichiro Hata said he intended to go to Yasukuni, which many believe is the repository of the souls of 2.5 million dead — including 14 leading war criminals — and is often seen as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression.
Jin Matsubara, the minister charged with dealing with the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents, also confirmed he was mulling a visit.
Speaking at an evening news conference, Noda said when his administration began in September, it was agreed that the premier and his ministers would “refrain from officially visiting the shrine.”
Conservative former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who led the Liberal Democratic Party, which is now in opposition, prayed once a year at the shrine during his 2001-2006 tenure, enraging China and South Korea.