Nearly 150 Japanese lawmakers paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine yesterday, raising simmering tensions on the eve of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan.
A cross-section of parliamentarians, including at least one Cabinet minister, paid their respects at the shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead, including several convicted war criminals.
China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of what they call Japan’s unwillingness to repent for its wartime aggressions over the past century, while the US views visits as unnecessary provocations.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a symbolic gift to the shrine on Monday — provoking a charge from China that he was offering “a slap in the face” to Obama — but did not make a visit.
By contrast, yesterday’s trip was Japanese Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Yoshitaka Shindo’s second in 10 days.
“I renew my faith in peace so that such tragedies will never be repeated. This is the belief that I always keep in mind when I come to Yasukuni Shrine,” he said, adding that he was there in a private capacity.
Sanae Takaichi, policy chief of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, said after visiting the shrine that reverence by politicians should not provoke diplomatic difficulties.
“It happens to be the time for the spring festival,” she told reporters.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would not interfere with shrine visits by Cabinet members.
“When a minister visits the shrine personally, it is a matter of an individual’s freedom of faith. The government should not step into it,” he said.
In another incident that could fuel regional tensions, Tokyo yesterday lodged a formal protest against Beijing’s seizure of a Japanese ship over unpaid bills dating back to the 1930s.
The Shanghai Maritime Courto n Saturday said it seized a vessel owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines “for enforcement of an effective judgement” made in December 2007 ordering the firm to pay ￥2.9 billion (US$28 million) in relation to the leasing of two ships nearly 80 years ago.
Some Japanese media outlets suggested that the seizure was meant to underline China’s assertiveness before Obama’s arrival.
“We have told the Chinese side through diplomatic channels that we regret its seizure of the vessel... we demand China take appropriate measures,” Suga said yesterday.
Tokyo’s position is that the seizure undermines a 1972 joint communique that normalized ties between Japan and China, in which Beijing agreed to renounce any demands for war reparations.
China on Monday said the case had nothing to do with the pact.