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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

Transport, postal reform ministers visit Yasukuni Shrine for fall festival


Staff writer

A group of 67 Diet members across party lines, including two Cabinet ministers, visited Yasukuni Shrine for the annual fall festival Thursday, a move expected to further aggravate Japan's territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has asked his Cabinet members to refrain from making visits to the Tokyo shrine in an official capacity, as it honors the nation's war dead, as well as Class-A war criminals, and is seen by other parts of Asia as symbolic of Japan's past military aggression.

Transport minister Yuichiro Hata and postal reform minister Mikio Shimoji both participated in Thursday's group visit, but insisted afterward they had gone to the shrine purely in a private capacity.

"I made a regular, private visit . . . to firmly think about world peace," said Hata, who also went to the shrine Aug. 15. "It was a personal visit and I pray that it will not have any affect" on already strained bilateral ties with Beijing, over the Senkaku Islands, and Seoul over the Takeshima islets.

Shimoji, also secretary general of Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party), the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's junior coalition partner, brushed aside concern that his visit could further stoke China and South Korea's anger.

"I paid a visit with my heartfelt emotion for peace for Japan and I would like to carry that in my heart as a politician. I don't think that my visit to the shrine is going to cause a major diplomatic problem," Shimoji told reporters afterward.

Hata and Shimoji's move followed on the heels of Liberal Democratic Party chief Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni the day before, and both China and South Korea have already voiced their dissatisfaction.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government has no say in how Cabinet ministers conduct themselves in private.

"I know that Hata and Shimoji visited Yasukuni Shrine today as private individuals. . . . The government should not pry into each person's freedom of religion," Fujimura said.

Other participants in the Diet group included Takashi Morita, a parliamentary secretary of the internal affairs ministry, Shunsuke Amiya, a parliamentary secretary of the Finance Ministry, and LDP heavyweights, including ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

The nonpartisan group pays visits to the shrine's spring and fall festivals yearly, as well as on Aug. 15, the day Japan surrendered.



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