An association of families of the war dead on Saturday asked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to show more consideration for Japan’s Asian neighbors over his contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine.
Nippon Izokukai, or the Japan War-Bereaved Association, headed by former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Makoto Koga, issued an unusual statement on its views of Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, which have prompted criticism from other Asian countries and have become a serious diplomatic issue.
The Shinto shrine in central Tokyo honors Japan’s 2.5 million war dead as well as Japan’s World War II leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals by an Allied-led tribunal.
To have prime ministers paying homage at the shrine “has been an ardent wish of the association and we appreciate it very much,” the group said in a document issued at a meeting in Tokyo of its senior members.
“At the same time, however, it is most important that the spirits of the war dead rest in peace,” the group said. “It is necessary to give consideration to neighboring countries and obtain their understanding.” The association’s main policy is to have regular Yasukuni visits by prime ministers, but in an unusual move the statement urges Koizumi to consider the criticism from neighboring countries — notably China and South Korea.
The association works as a powerful vote-gathering machine for the LDP, of which Koizumi is president.
The statement also said politics should not be brought into the argument about whether Class-A war criminals should be enshrined separately from the war dead.
It also said that the association considers Yasukuni Shrine as the only memorial facility for the spirits of the war dead and it opposes establishment of a new facility.
In view of tense diplomatic relations, some lawmakers from the LDP have proposed separating the convicted war criminals from the ranks of the war dead honored at Yasukuni.
But the Association of Shinto Shrines said recently a separate enshrinement is unlikely, given basic Shinto principles.
The meeting of the senior members of the Japan War-Bereaved Association was held to work out a common view on Koizumi’s visits to the shrine.
Speaking at a general meeting of his LDP faction on June 2, Koga said: “The most important thing is that the spirits of the war dead rest in peace.
“We can’t simply reject the criticism from Japan’s neighbors. Remarks by people in certain positions require sensitivity to neighboring countries and diplomacy also requires compassion.”
Koizumi has visited Yasukuni once a year since taking office in April 2001, and amid strong protests from and troubled relations with China, the prime minister has said he will make an “appropriate” decision on when to visit next.
Koizumi last went there on Jan. 1, 2004.
When he was running for the LDP presidency in April 2001, Koizumi promised the war-bereaved association that he would visit Yasukuni if elected prime minister.
Other Asian countries that suffered from Japanese aggression during World War II see the shrine as symbolic of Japan’s past militarism because it honors the 14 Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.
The Japan Times: June 12, 2005