Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited a controversial shrine honoring Japan's war dead Monday despite strong criticism at home and abroad. The visit demonstrated Japan's reluctance to admit responsibility for its past history of war crimes and emphasizes its extreme and persistent nationalism.
The visit will also provoke further protests throughout Asia, and will neither benefit Japan's national plan of rejuvenation nor its future prospects.
Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine in an official capacity was made two days ahead of his original plan. Since taking office in April, he has repeatedly said that he would visit the shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender.
He also published a statement earlier justifying his visit, saying that when he stood before the bier of those who believed in the future of the country during those difficult times and died on the battle fields, he felt once again that the peace and prosperity of Japan today is based on their "precious sacrifice."
Asian victims of Japan's past aggression view the Yasukuni shrine as a monument to Japan's militarism. Nearly 2.46 million Japanese soldiers are honored at the shrine and 2.1 million of them died during World War II, including 14 Class-A war criminals, such as wartime Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Koizumi's visit to the shrine, which is a part of Japan's Shinto religion, is also a violation of Japan's postwar constitution, which states that no religious groups are entitled to receive state privileges, and that the state and its functionaries may not participate in religious activities.
However, Japanese right-wingers have frequently mount pressure on the Japanese government, demanding the government resume protection and preside again over Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine. In October 1978, Japan's militarist remnant forces took advantage of the Autumn Sacrifice and secretly put the tablets of 14 A-class war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, into the shrine in the name of "Showa Martyrs."
Consequently, the shrine has become a place where Japanese right-wingers distort the history, glorify the aggression and embellish the deeds of those war criminals, thereby provoking criticism both within and outside Japan.
The visit to the shrine by Japan's former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone on August 15, 1985, received wide-spread criticism from Japan's public and other Asian countries. Japan's leaders have since become cautious about the visit. It is obvious that Koizumi's promises to visit the shrine in the past were intended to politically empower him. His visit clearly indicates that Japan's leaders do not reflect Japan's wars of aggression, but are also using the Yasukuni shrine to curry favor with Japan's national extremists and to revive the "glory" of the past Imperial Japan.
Koizumi avoided visiting the shrine on the anniversary of Japan 's World War II surrender. However, the Japanese government does not regard the day of defeat, but refer to it as "the day the war ended." All Japanese remarks regarding the war within the Yasukuni shrine refer to the "Great East Asia War." They claim the "Great East Asia War" was a "sacred war" launched by the Japanese Army with the intent to "liberate Asian nations from the domination of white people." This is also the fundamental pretext for some Japanese politicians to continue beautifying the war of aggression.
As the world enters the 21st century, Japan is attempting to play a more important international role. For this reason, it must represent clearly and accurately its true historic role.
Facing opposition at home and from other countries, Koizumi changed his original plan to visit the Yasukuni shrine on August 15. He also said that his visit would not attempt to glorify the war or absolve war criminals. But his insistence on carrying out the visit has just run counter to these statements.
People will wait and see whether the Japanese leader will practice what he preaches and honor his statements.
(Xinhua News Agency 08/14/2001)