Today dozens of Japanese politicians are expected to make a trip to Yasukuni Shrine, a highly controversial monument to Japan’s war dead and for China and Korea little more than a reminder of the nation’s imperial past.
It’s like clockwork. Another batch of officials visits the shrine, another round of protests from China and South Korea, and tensions are left to simmer – until the next visit.
This morning Yoshitaka Shindo, internal affairs and communications minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, made the pilgrimage, as did Keiji Furuya, another member of the cabinet. The pair went to mark the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. These two are likely the first two in a procession of others who will come to pay their respects today at the verdant shrine in the center of Tokyo.
“I came here on my own judgment,” Shindo told reporters.
Some 14 war criminals, including General Hideki Tojo of Pearl Harbor infamy, are honored at the shrine, along with some 2.5 million citizens who died during World War II and other conflicts.
The Korean peninsula is among the most aggrieved nations, having endured a 35-year occupation by Imperial Japanese forces. During last year’s visit at the same time, protests were staged across China and South Korea.
In anticipation of today’s visits, South Korean foreign ministry representative Cho Tai-Young said, “We once again stress that there should be no trips by top Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine.” He added, “Our government and people will never tolerate such visits.”
These shrine visits are likely to continue, but there has been a change. In response to the mounting disapproval and the increasingly strained relations with neighbors, Abe and some of his highest ranking staff – deputy prime minister Taro Aso, who has been described as a “gaffe machine,” and foreign minister Fumio Kishida – are steering clear of Yasukuni this year.
Yet, they are still paying tribute in their own way. Abe will reportedly still make time for a ritual offering, akin to the procession of 170 lawmakers who visited the shrine in spring – an act that made international headlines and raised hackles across the region.
Chinese state media on Wednesday immediately reported the Japanese premier’s decision not to visit the “notorious” shrine. Chinese analysts said Abe’s restraint will not likely move Beijing, however, and would instead further inflame tensions.
Meanwhile, yesterday in Taipei around 200 protestors demanded an apology from Tokyo for the Japanese Imperial army’s use of “comfort women” during World War II.
“We urge the Japanese government to sincerely apologize,” said Kang Shu-hua, director of the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation which organized the protest.
She added, “Don’t think they can get away with it after the elderly ‘comfort women’ pass away as we will continue to seek justice for them.”