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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008

Cabinet trio visit Yasukuni

Staff writer

Cabinet ministers and at least 53 Diet members visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on surrender day Friday while Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and two key ministers opted to keep their distance from the contentious landmark, which served as Japan's spiritual pillar during the war.

Fukuda, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura all refrained from visiting the Shinto shrine, conforming with Fukuda's moderate stance of not antagonizing China and South Korea.

The shrine, which honors Japan's 2.47 million war dead, as well as Class A war criminals, is regarded by many parts of Asia as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism. Friday marked the 63rd anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender and is an emotional day for many Japanese.

Former nationalistic Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe also paid their respects Friday.

Koizumi was notorious for making annual visits to the shrine while prime minister from 2001 to 2006, including on surrender day in his final year. Each visit provoked harsh outcries from China and South Korea.

Joining them Friday were farm minister Seiichi Ota, Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka, consumer affairs minister Seiko Noda and nationalist Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who went for a ninth year in a row.

Noda, often regarded as having the best chance of becoming Japan's first female prime minister, previously visited the shrine when she was posts minister.

When asked if she felt awkward about coming to the shrine while Fukuda did not, Noda said his decision was based on his opinion and the Cabinet was not told to refrain.

"People have different religious views, so (going to a shrine) should be freely allowed," said Lower House member Yoshinobu Shimamura, who heads a nonpartisan group that visits the shrine together. Shimamura led 52 other Diet conservatives on the annual visit.

Despite the scorching weather, the shrine attracted a myriad of visitors, many there to witness the lawmakers' visit.

The shrine served as the backbone for the Shinto fervor that drove Japan's war. Dead soldiers were enshrined there as gods who protected the country, and many relatives of the war dead still go to Yasukuni to remember loved ones even 63 years after the end of the war.

A 56-year-old man from Ishikawa Prefecture who requested anonymity said Yasukuni's supporters and detractors both have their points, and it is difficult to say what's right regarding the politicians' visits.

The prime minister and other ministers may need to be careful about expressing their views too much because "it is a fact that visiting Yasukuni has caused problems," he said.

On the other hand, while asserting an understanding of other countries' viewpoints, he said they should not be so critical of a "domestic" issue.

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The Japan Times

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