At 2 pm on January 14, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi again visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which contains memorial tablets to 14 class-A war criminals of World War II including then Prime Minister Tojo Hideki. It seems Koizumi completely forgot the angry protests from the governments and peoples of other Asian countries triggered by his shrine visits in the past two years.
According to the Japanese NHK broadcasting network, Koizumi appeared at the shrine looking solemn and spent about a minute paying respect. This time, however, there was no traditional Shinto purification ritual at the altar; rather, Koizumi presented flowers in his own expense and left without making a formal speech.
But, before leaving for the shrine, Koizumi had expressed his feelings by telling Japanese reporters: "It is New Year, and I will go in order to meditate on peace with a clear mind and that (Japan) will never again cause a war," according to the Jiji news agency. When asked if he would pay homage in the name of Japanese Prime Minister, Koizumi answered: “I will pay respect just as Junichiro Koizumi.” To another question regarding whether his visit would harm the relations with China and South Korea, he hoped there would be no change in both Sino-Japanese and Japan-South Korea relations, and he wanted "be understood by our neighbors".
This is the third time that Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine since taking office in April 2001. He visited the shrine on August 13, 2001 and April 21, 2002.
Koizumi made a campaign promise to right-wing organizations such as Izoku in April 2001, when he fought to lead the Liberal Democratic Party, that “I will choose August 15 (the day World War II ended) to visit the shrine if elected.” Actually, his first visit came two days before August 15. In October that year, he flew to China for fence-mending and paid respect at the Memorial Hall of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. However, the following year, Koizumi went to the shrine again, although he changed the time to “the spring sacrifices” on April 21, 2002. In December 2002, he declared that he planned to visit the shrine again "when appropriate" despite the protests his actions provoked.
The Japanese media suggested three reasons why Koizumi this time chose to visit the shrine before the opening of Japanese Parliament on January 20. Firstly, he wanted to finish his shrine visit before China’s annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March and the event of a new South Korean president taking office in a bid to reduce the impact on the ties with these two countries. Secondly, January 14 is just an ordinary day in Koizumi’s mind with no relationship to the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, or the Spring and Autumn Sacrifices. Thirdly, Koizumi was concerned about his coming visit to South Korea in February and his possible visit to China within this year, which would leave him with no appropriate time to visit the shrine.
It is almost certain that Koizumi intended to do it; it was neither a mistake nor a political show. As a matter of fact, in order to soften the Asian countries’ anger sparked by the shrine visits of Japanese leaders, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Minister of State Yasuo Fukuda had studied ways of mourning its war-dead and suggested Japan build a new place to honor the war-dead. But Koizumi said surprisingly that new place is a new place, while the shrine is the shrine, indicating he would visit the shrine again.
In defiance of strong opposition from Japan's neighbors following his previous visits, Koizumi is playing a trick by expressing his sincere wish to examine the past on the one hand, and insisting on continuing his shrine visits on the other. Such controversial behavior forces Asian peoples to question his real intention.
Again, Koizumi’s shrine visit greatly hurt the feelings of Chinese people; at the same time, it harmed the Japanese people in examining the past aggressive war, and it hindered the steady development of China-Japanese relations. In fact, it only satisfied Japanese right wing forces that wholeheartedly want to revise history.
It is still fresh in the people’s mind that some right-wing scholars had made suggestions to Koizumi right after his shrine visit last year saying he should continue to do so until Asian countries stop opposing.
Today, with more Japanese people taking a right deviation, the Japanese government does not seriously change its old way of thinking on historical issues, but rather moves further and further to the right. Therefore it is really worth people’s deep thought and high alert.
Muraoko Hisahira, head of the China-Japan Friendship Association, expressed his deep concern over Koizumi’s shrine visit, which would add to the Chinese people’s doubts and vigilance towards Japan. He said that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese Friendship Treaty, and should be a prime time to develop Sino-Japanese relations. Koizumi’s shrine visit would certainly invite deepest regret and anger from Asian peoples, he noted.
(The author, Sun Zhengmin, is a People’s Daily staff reporter in Tokyo)
(China.org.cn, translated by Zheng Guihong January 16, 2003)