Tokyo fuhrer Shintaro Ishihara has paid his annual respects to Japanese war criminals at Yasukuni, saying Japan’s current government “is not Japanese” for choosing to stay away.
Talking to the media, he was characteristically outspoken:
[The DPJ cabinet aren’t visiting to pay their respects?]
“Shouldn’t Japanese pay their respects? That lot aren’t Japanese!”
Ishihara is of course a long time visitor to the shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine enshrines the souls of Japan’s 2,466,532 pre-1951 war dead; the major issue surrounding political visits to the shrine is the fact that in 1978 the souls of 14 Class A war criminals were explicitly enshrined as “martyrs.”
Other dubious fixtures at the shrine include a statue celebrating the sacrifice of kamikaze pilots, a statue honouring an Indian war crimes tribunal judge who insisted the USA was responsible for the war, and a revisionist war museum glorifying Japan’s attempt to “liberate” Asia.
The actual content of the shrine is determined by its own religious administration and various private groups. Due to the constitutional protection of freedom of religion and the post-war separation of Shinto and state, it is said to be impossible to compel the shrine’s administration to remove the war criminals.
In the eyes of critics, political visits to a shrine which goes to great lengths to honour fascists and mass murderers constitute a celebration of same, and since 1978 even the emperor has refused to visit the shrine out of concern over the enshrinement of war criminals (although he does despatch emissaries).
Since 1978, visits by politicians have taken on a strong foreign policy dimension, with Sino-Japanese relations ostensibly heavily influenced by whether an administration conducts visits.
PM Kan and his cabinet refrained from visiting Yasukuni at all, which can either be interpreted as a harmless diplomatic gesture of contrition to their overly sensitive Asian neighbours, or a slavish display of the subservient foreign policy they have become notorious for.