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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007

One minister breaks ranks, visits shrine

Koizumi, Ishihara pay surrender day respects By REIJI YOSHIDA Staff writer


Staff writer

Japan observed the 62nd anniversary of its World War II surrender Wednesday as all but one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet ministers refrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

News photo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers a prayer Wednesday at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, where the remains of unknown soldiers and civilians who died overseas during the war are buried. AP PHOTO

Prior to Wednesday, all 16 ministers had said they would not visit Yasukuni, but one suddenly changed her schedule and visited the shrine.

Sanae Takaichi, minister in charge of gender equality and Okinawa-related issues, visited the shrine in an apparent effort to avoid a rare absence of all Cabinet members at Yasukuni on the surrender anniversary.

If Takaichi had not gone to the shrine, Wednesday would have been the first anniversary on which no Cabinet ministers paid a visit since the mid-1950s.

The media had played up the expected absence of all Cabinet members as a symbol of the political difficulties confronting Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party suffered a historic setback in the Upper House election last month.

Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, went to the shrine in what appeared to be another effort to encourage politicians to make regular visits. His annual visits to the shrine while in office, especially on last year's surrender day, particularly irked China and South Korea.

Koizumi entered the main hall from a side entrance shortly after 8 a.m. He left without commenting to reporters waiting outside. This was his second Aug. 15 visit.

Yasukuni has been widely regarded as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism because, besides honoring the nation's millions of military war dead, it also honors Class-A war criminals.

China demanded that at least three key Cabinet members — the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary and foreign minister — not visit the shrine, which served as the nation's spiritual pillar of militaristic patriotism during the war.

Koizumi, who strained Sino-Japanese relations by repeatedly visiting Yasukuni, currently holds no position in the government.

In another annual move to promote Yasukuni visits by lawmakers, 46 Diet members visited the shrine, including former farm minister Yoshinobu Shimamura, former defense minister Tokuichiro Tamazawa and former LDP Executive Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi.

They are part of an association chaired by Shimamura that promotes group visits by members of the Diet to Yasukuni on Aug. 15. Shimamura said he came to express respect for the war dead who dedicated their lives to the nation during the war, arguing that political leaders who were hanged as Class-A criminals after the war should not be discriminated against.

Shimamura also softly criticized Abe.

"(Abe) doesn't seem to be himself. He should pay a visit" to Yasukuni, Shimamura told reporters at the shrine.

Before holding key government positions, Abe openly visited the shrine and argued that prime ministers should make the pilgrimage in defiance of China or any other country.

Also at Yasukuni was Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who arrived at the shrine after attending a memorial service for the war dead organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Wednesday's visit to the Shinto shrine marked the governor's eighth consecutive annual appearance at Yasukuni on surrender day.

Later in the day, he told reporters his visit was the "proper thing" to do.

"There is no reason to feel hesitation about visiting the shrine (on Aug. 15)," he said.

But he said he was in no position to comment on Abe and his Cabinet members who stayed away from the shrine this year.

"I do not know what they were thinking, and I don't need to speculate on their intentions. It is not my responsibility (to do that)," he said.



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