In Japan: Defence minister visits Yasukuni war shrine
Dozens of conservative lawmakers visit the shrine on the anniversary marking Japan's surrender in World War II.
Japan’s hawkish defence minister prayed Thursday at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, the day after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a highly symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor.
Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is controversial for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
It has been criticised by countries such as China and South Korea which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Tomomi Inada’s visit was her first since taking the key defence portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.
"By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world," she told reporters.
She noted that Barack Obama — "the president of a country that dropped atomic bombs" — had gone to Hiroshima earlier this year, while Abe "voiced words to console the spirits of the dead" at Pearl Harbor.
The timing is likely to prove highly contentious coming so soon after Abe and Obama’s joint visit to the site of Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on the navy base in Hawaii that drew the US into World War II.
Inada is a close confidante of Abe with staunchly nationalist views. Abe, who was reportedly playing golf, said he had "no comment" on her visit, Jiji Press said.
South Korea was quick to criticise Inada.
"Our government cannot but deplore" the visit, foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-Hyuck said in a statement, while in separate comments the defence ministry expressed "grave concern and regret".
‘Gratitude and respect’
Inada wrote in 2011 that Japan — the only country in the world to suffer atomic bomb attacks — should consider acquiring nuclear weapons.
In August after becoming defence minister she told reporters that Japan "should not consider arming itself with nuclear weapons at this moment".
In 2014, she and another conservative lawmaker were seen in separate photographs standing next to the leader of a Japanese neo-Nazi party, though spokesmen for both denied any political affiliation.
Inada argued Thursday that paying respect to war dead should be universally accepted, echoing the argument repeated by Japanese lawmakers who frequently visit Yasukuni.
"Regardless of the types of views that you hold about history, regardless of whether you are foes or friends, I believe wishes to express gratitude and to respect and commemorate whose who died for their nations can be understood in any country," she said.
Dozens of conservative lawmakers visit the shrine on the anniversary marking Japan’s surrender in World War II.
On Wednesday, Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of the reconstruction of northern Japan after the massive 2011 tsunami, went to Yasukuni shortly after Abe wrapped up his visit to Hawaii.
Abe and Obama paid homage to the more than 2,400 Americans killed in Japan’s surprise attack against the Pacific Fleet and issued declarations about the power of reconciliation and warned against fomenting conflict.
The prime minister’s Pearl Harbor visit followed Obama’s May journey to Hiroshima, the scene of the world’s first atomic attack days in August 1945.
Abe, who has called for strengthening Japan’s military, has himself avoided Yasukuni after going there three years ago to commemorate his first anniversary as prime minister.
His trip there sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.
He has stayed away after that, but Japanese conservatives have called on him to resume visits.