A Japanese Cabinet minister visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo yesterday, in a move likely to cause anger in China and South Korea, which see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Japanese Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Yoshitaka Shindo paid homage yesterday morning at the Yasukuni Shrine, Jiji Press and other news reports said.
Shindo, a regular visitor to the shrine, insisted that it was a “private matter,” playing down the potential for diplomatic fallout from a visit by a member of the Japanese government.
“Offering condolences to the war dead can be seen in any country,” Shindo was quoted by Jiji as saying following his visit, which came ahead of the shrine’s annual spring festival from April 21 to April 23.
Japanese parliamentarians make pilgrimages to the shrine during spring and autumn festivals and on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, enraging neighboring nations.
The shrine, which used to be run by the wartime government, honors Japan’s war dead, including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.
China and South Korea see it as a brutal reminder of Tokyo’s imperialist past and wartime aggression, and its failure to repent for its history.
In December last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit as premier to the shrine since he took office in December 2012.
Abe, known for his nationalist views, previously served as Japanese premier from 2006 to 2007, without visiting Yasukuni.
Abe’s visit — which came at a time when Japan’s ties with China have turned particularly sour over a territorial dispute regarding islands in the East China Sea — prompted an angry reaction from Beijing.
The Japanese coast guard said earlier in the day, for several hours yesterday, three Chinese government ships entered the territorial waters around the East China Sea islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) in Taiwan, which claim them along with China.
South Korea also reacted angrily to the Japanese prime minister’s visit to the shrine last year, while Japan’s ally the US said it was “disappointed” by the Japanese prime minister’s decision as it would raise regional tensions.
Abe is widely expected to refrain from visiting the shrine during the upcoming spring festival ahead of a summit with US President Barack Obama on April 24 in Tokyo.