Japan ministers plan Yasukuni war shrine visit
Two Japanese cabinet ministers said Friday they were planning to visit Tokyo’s controversial war shrine next week, in a move likely to inflame sometimes testy relations with neighbouring countries.
The proposed visits would be the first by ministers in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since it came to power in 2009, and contravene the wishes of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who, like his two predecessors, has asked his cabinet to stay away.
Land and transport minister Yuichiro Hata told reporters he intended to go to Yasukuni, which many believe is the repository of the souls of 2.5 million dead — including 14 leading war criminals — and is often seen as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression.
“I am thinking of visiting in a private capacity, as I’ve been visiting the Yasukuni shrine since childhood with my father and kept visiting after I became a member of parliament,” Hata said, asked about a visit on the August 15 anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.
Jin Matsubara, the minister charged with dealing with the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents, also confirmed he was mulling a visit.
“Since I’ve been visiting there every August for more than two decades, I’d like to decide on it appropriately,” he said.
Speaking at an evening news conference Noda said when his administration began in September 2011, it was agreed that the premier and his ministers would “refrain from officially visiting the shrine”.
“I believe other ministers will observe the agreement.”
The announcements came as South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak paid a brief visit to islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan, although neither man made reference to the visit.
They also came as ties with China continue to be affected by a spat over the ownership of islands in the East China Sea believed to be rich in minerals.
Top war criminals from World War II were secretly enshrined at Yasukuni in the 1970s, including General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor and was hanged for war crimes by a US-led tribunal.
Former conservative prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who led the Liberal Democratic Party, which is now in opposition, prayed once a year at the shrine during his 2001-2006 tenure, enraging China and South Korea.