Dozens of Japanese lawmakers yesterday visited a controversial war shrine in an annual pilgrimage that drew an angry response from Seoul, which sees it as a painful reminder of Tokyo’s wartime past.
The group of about 85 politicians arrived at the leafy Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo during a four-day autumn festival. Led by priests, the dark-suited lawmakers entered the main shrine building to pray for Japan’s war dead as they bowed at the threshold.
The visit comes a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — often criticized for what some see as a revisionist take on Japan’s wartime record — sent an offering to the shrine, but avoided a visit.
Yasukuni honors millions of Japanese war dead, including 30,304 Taiwanese soldiers killed in World War II, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.
The Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan’s colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including China and the two Koreas.
South Korea responded to yesterday’s visit with a statement expressing “deep concern and disappointment over the fact that [lawmakers] have once again sent offerings to and paid tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan’s past war of aggression.”
Seoul called on Japanese politicians to “demonstrate through action their humble self-reflection and sincere remorse for Japan’s past wrongdoings.”
China did not immediately comment, but it criticized Abe’s offering on Monday.
Yesterday, four China Coast Guard ships entered Japan’s territorial waters close to disputed islands that have been a thorn in the side of diplomatic relations for years.
Visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians routinely draw an angry reaction from Beijing and Seoul, and more controversial than the shrine is an accompanying museum that paints Japan as a liberator of Asia and a victim of the war.
Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to the US’ Arlington National Cemetery.
“Every country pays respects to people who died for his or her country,” Hidehisa Otsuji, who headed the group of lawmakers, told reporters yesterday.
The site attracts many visitors who come to pay their respects to friends and relatives who died in military conflicts.
“I heard that my grandfather died in the battlefield, so I came here to comfort his spirit,” said Kazuya Ono, a 40-year-old Japanese businessman, who visited Yasukuni yesterday.
Abe visited the shrine in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the US, which said it was “disappointed” by the action.
Abe has since refrained from going, sending ritual offerings instead.
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