Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead by the end of the year, Japanese media reported yesterday, citing an aide in Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Such a visit would almost certainly anger Asian victims of Japan’s past aggression. Relations with China and South Korea are also strained over territorial disputes.
The media reports came two days after a Japanese minister and more than 100 lawmakers visited the shrine, prompting China to accuse Japan of undermining ties.
Another minister, Cabinet member Keiji Furuya, visited the shrine yesterday, the last day of the shrine’s autumn festival, the Kyodo news agency reported.
On Thursday, Abe made his third ritual offering to the shrine since returning to office in December last year, but he has so far not visited in person to avoid further upsetting China and South Korea.
As well as Japan’s war dead, Yasukuni also honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, making it a painful reminder to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression in the 20th century.
Abe has said he regretted not visiting the shrine in person when he first served as prime minister in 2006 and 2007.
Kyodo quoted Koichi Hagiuda, a lawmaker and aide to Abe, as saying Abe’s position on the shrine had not changed.
Hagiuda told reporters he thinks Abe would visit the shrine within the first year of his current government — in other words, by December.
“Some people say he should visit the shrine sometime while he is prime minister, but a visit to the shrine should be made at least once a year,” Kyodo quoted Hagiuda as saying.
A second Japanese Cabinet minister visited the shrine yesterday, but said he had no intention of provoking neighboring countries.
Keiji Furuya, who is minister in charge of issues related to North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals, visited the shrine in Tokyo early in the morning on the final day of an autumn festival, an aide said.
About 160 members of parliament — approximately 20 percent of the nation’s lawmakers — paid tribute at the shrine on Friday, including Yoshitaka Shindo, the minister overseeing internal affairs and communications, whose visit drew a rebuke from China.
“It is a duty for parliamentarians ... to extend his or her heartfelt condolences to those who devoted their life to their own country and to solemnly renew the vows for eternal peace,” Furuya said in a statement issued after his brief visit in rainy weather.
He said it was natural for a Japanese citizen to visit the shrine, adding he had previously made pilgrimages to mark spring and autumn festivals as well as the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, which falls on Aug. 15.
“I have no intention to provoke our neighboring countries in the first place,” Furuya said. “Moreover, how a nation pays its respect to the souls of the war dead who devoted his or her life to their country is purely a domestic matter, which its citizens should address.”
He blamed “some excessive media coverage” of visits to Yasukuni for being detrimental to Japan’s national interests. He argued the shrine was not meant to “glorify” war.
“Rather, it is a place which many Japanese citizens have visited and maintained ... to console the soul of their kin and friends who devoted their life to the country,” he added.
Speaking after his visit on Friday, Shindo played down the potential for diplomatic fallout, but Beijing said it was a bid to “whitewash” past Japanese aggression and Tokyo’s envoy was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as China lodged a protest.
In Seoul a foreign ministry official bemoaned the shrine’s role as one that “justifies the history of Japan’s aggression.”
Abe last week donated a symbolic gift to the shrine, taken as a sign that he would not be there in person.
Reports said Abe’s younger brother, Japanese Senior Vice Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi, visited the shrine on Saturday.