Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was scheduled to visit the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam yesterday to highlight Japan’s friendship with the Jewish people and sees no contradiction with his recent controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine at home.
The Anne Frank House, where the German-born Jewish girl kept a diary of her life in hiding before she was discovered and died in a Nazi concentration camp, is now one of Europe’s best-known memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, drawing more than 1 million visitors per year.
Abe’s planned visit comes less than three months after his visit on Dec. 26 last year to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Japan’s Asian neighbors as a symbol of the country’s wartime aggression, as it honors convicted World War II war criminals, as well as others who died in battle.
“On this visit [to the Anne Frank House], we would like to reiterate the lasting and profound friendship between Japan and the Jewish people around the world,” a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
Asked whether there was a difference between visiting a memorial to Japanese soldiers at home and a memorial to war victims abroad, the spokesman said “there is no contradiction.”
He said Yasukuni enshrines 2.46 million souls who died for their country during conflicts since 1853, including both world wars, and that at the time of the visit, Abe issued a pledge that Japan must never wage a war again.
Yasukuni played a key role in Japan’s Shinto religion, which mobilized the population to fight in the name of a divine emperor. China and South Korea, both which have been occupied by Japan, have repeatedly criticized visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine.
Abe — in the Netherlands for a G7 summit — will be the most prominent world leader to visit the Anne Frank house since Israeli President Shimon Peres, former German president Christian Wulff and former UN secretary-ceneral Kofi Annan.
“Abe seems more sensitive to Western criticisms of his revisionism than those coming from China or Korea, and in particular of the Jewish American community, as represented by the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano told Reuters in an e-mail.
An official at the Anne Frank House museum said the story of the young diarist is well known in Japan and more than 33,000 Japanese tourists visited the house last year.
The Abe visit to the house comes after a series of incidents in recent months in Japan in which Anne Frank diaries were vandalized in public libraries. A suspect has been arrested.
A Japanese government official told reporters last week that there is no direct causal relationship between these incidents and Abe’s visit, but said Abe wants to convey the message that many Japanese are pained by the vandalism.
Separately yesterday, the Japanese prime minister indicated that he wanted Tokyo and Seoul to put wartime enmities behind them ahead of his first meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb in years, mired in emotive issues linked to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule and a territorial dispute, as well as Japan’s use of “comfort women” in wartime brothels.
Abe left Tokyo’s Haneda Airport for a three-day visit to the Netherlands for a Nuclear Security Summit that opens today in The Hague.
On the sidelines of the event he is due to meet with Park and US President Barack Obama after Washington urged the two Asian neighbors to mend strained ties.
“It is going to be my first talk with President Park Geun-hye and I want to make it the first step to build a future-oriented Japan-South Korea relationship,” Abe said before leaving.
The three-way meeting — designed to discuss North Korean threats — is considered a diplomatic breakthrough as Abe and Park have never held a formal summit.
Abe also said he wanted to “exchange views frankly on security in East Asia” with the South Korean and US leaders.
The Japanese prime minister will also take part in a meeting of G7 leaders in The Hague to discuss the Crimean crisis.
Japanese media have reported that the prime minister will announce nearly US$1 billion in economic assistance to Ukraine.