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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lawmakers visit Yasukuni festival

Staff writers

A group of lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday for its annual spring festival, just one day after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said in Tokyo he would focus on building friendly ties with Japan.

News photo
Yasukuni prayers: Lawmakers led by former farm minister Yoshinobu Shimamura (center) follow a Shinto priest to offer annual spring festival prayers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. KYODO

A total of 62 Diet members from the Liberal Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Japan and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) attended the festival at the war-linked shrine.

They included former farm minister Yoshinobu Shimamura, Kokumin Shinto leader Tamisuke Watanuki and Eriko Yamatani, a special adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. Two senior vice ministers and five parliamentary secretaries were also present.

"Considering the peace and prosperity (of Japan) today, I think it is natural as a Japanese person to pray devoutly for those who sacrificed their lives for the state and its people," said Shimamura, who heads the lawmakers' group.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has declared his intention not to visit Yasukuni Shrine, where not only the war dead but also 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined.

"I don't think I should say it is right or wrong" for Fukuda to choose not to visit the shrine, Shimamura told reporters. "Some people take action based on different ideas, while others may be in a position where they have to consider various things."

Junichiro Koizumi, on the other hand, made annual visits to the shrine when he was prime minister, drawing strong criticism from China and South Korea.

South Korea's Lee met with Fukuda on Monday, when the two leaders agreed to build future-oriented ties while not forgetting the two countries' history. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit Tokyo early next month.

The shrine recently attracted media attention over the soon-to-be-released controversial documentary "Yasukuni," which was directed by Li Ying, a Chinese resident of Japan.

Many conservative lawmakers have criticized the film — which received a small subsidy from a government-affiliated agency — saying it portrays an incorrect image of the shrine.

"I will say frankly that I was indeed disappointed with the film," said Shimamura, who saw the film during a special preview for lawmakers.

Meanwhile, ordinary visitors to Yasukuni Shrine expressed similar reactions to the film, which won the best documentary award at the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival.

A 62-year-old martial arts trainer from Chiba Prefecture said he has not seen the film himself "but the people who died (in the war) with really pure hearts must never be harmed or disgraced. If there is any special intention — political or religious — (behind the film production), I will be extremely indignant."

Choji Hashimoto, 73, of Tokyo, expressed uneasiness about the movie.

"I think that some people involved (in the production of the film) didn't study hard enough" about the shrine's history, Hashimoto said. "The truth (of Yasukuni Shrine) is not" that portrayed in the movie.

Hashimoto, whose two elder brothers were killed in World War II and are enshrined at Yasukuni, said he visits the shrine every New Year's Day to pray for them to rest in peace.

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The Japan Times

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