Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine must be followed by diplomatic rebuilding
首相靖国参拝 外交立て直しに全力を挙げよ （12月27日付・読売社説）
In what could be called a “lightning shrine visit,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, raising the question of why he took such an action at this particular point in time. A number of other questions should also be asked, including what resolve and preparations were in his mind in making this visit to the shrine.
Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday morning, on the first anniversary of the launch of the current Abe administration. It was his first visit since he assumed the top post of the government and the first visit to the war-related shrine by a sitting prime minister since then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went there on Aug. 15, 2006.
Regarding his inability to visit Yasukuni during the first Abe Cabinet in 2006-07, Abe is repeatedly on record as saying, “It was a matter of deepest regret.” Thursday’s visit can be said to be the fulfillment of a personal, long-cherished desire of the prime minister.
Abe refrained from visiting the shrine earlier this year on Aug. 15, the day marking the end of World War II, and during the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals. Instead, he only sent offerings of masakaki sacred tree stands and made monetary offerings called tamagushi-ryo.
His decisions on those occasions may have been based on a broad perspective that a visit to Yasukuni would worsen Japan’s already strained relations with China and South Korea, which see Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s militarism, a step inadvisable from a diplomatic point of view.
The United States was also concerned that a visit to the shrine by the prime minister could heighten Tokyo’s tensions with Beijing and Seoul.
On their trip to Japan in October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid flowers at Tokyo’s Chidorigafuchi cemetery for the remains of unidentified Japanese who died overseas during World War II. This is believed to have been an attempt to dissuade Abe from making a Yasukuni visit.
We are especially concerned that the United States, in the wake of Abe’s visit to the shrine, has released an extraordinary statement saying that Washington “is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”
Was this a miscalculation by Abe, who has placed top priority on the United States in his diplomatic policies?
China has unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, heightening tension in the relations between Japan and China. China may beef up its offensive stance over the territorial sovereignty issue of the Senkaku Islands.
Japan, in tandem with its ally the United States, must continue acting resolutely in defense of the integrity of the nation’s territorial land and sea.
We cannot help but wonder whether Abe, at this highly sensitive time, has personally created a destabilizing factor for his administration by visiting Yasukuni Shrine.
Some of the prime minister’s close aides reportedly prodded Abe to make a Yasukuni visit, saying China and South Korea have criticized Japan even though Abe had not gone there. The situation would remain unchanged even if the prime minister visited Yasukuni, they reportedly told him.
If Abe came to that conclusion as a result of his failure to find a way to improve relations with China and South Korea, we cannot help but feel that is regrettable.
New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi opposed the visit when Abe phoned him immediately before his visit to the shrine, saying bluntly, “I cannot support that.” After Abe’s visit, Yamaguchi said, “As the prime minister presumably acted knowing there would be adverse reactions from both China and South Korea, the prime minister should personally make efforts to ameliorate the situation.”
Abe must do his utmost to rebuild the nation’s diplomacy, which has been marred because of his visit to Yasukuni.
Abuse by China, ROK
Regarding his Yasukuni visit, Abe said he chose that day “to report the progress of the first year of my administration and convey my resolve to build an era in which the people will never again suffer the ravages of war.” In regard to China and South Korea, Abe said, “I would like to explain this feeling of mine to them directly.”
Rather than lending an ear to Abe’s statement, China and South Korea have begun to use his Yasukuni visit as material to back their claim that Japan is drifting to the right.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that Abe’s visit “infringed on the national sentiment of war-victimized countries and defied the justice of history.” The South Korean government also criticized the visit, saying it was “an anachronistic act that would harm the stability and cooperation of Northeast Asia from its very foundation.”
Their misunderstanding and distortions are excessive.
Japan has pursued the path of a pacifist nation in the postwar period while upholding the principles of freedom and democracy. It is missing the mark for these two countries to ignore this point and criticize Abe’s Yasukuni visit.
In the first place, China and South Korea should be blamed for worsening relations with Japan by linking the issue of perceptions of history with political and diplomatic affairs.
Aside from the propriety of Abe’s Yasukuni visit, how the prime minister of one nation mourns its war dead is not a matter for interference from other nations.
Build nonreligious site
The predecessor of Yasukuni Shrine is Tokyo Shokonsha Shrine, which was built in 1869 to console the souls of soldiers from anti-Tokugawa Shogunate domains who died in civil wars to achieve the so-called Meiji Restoration. Samurai warriors in the late Tokugawa period, the war dead from the Sino-Japanese, Russo-Japanese and Showa wars are enshrined together at Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine, however, is not dedicated only to the war dead.
Behind the fact that worshipping at Yasukuni Shrine has become a political issue is the enshrinement there of former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and other so-called Class A war criminals who were sentenced to death at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or Tokyo Trials.
Yasukuni Shrine has argued that it is impossible from a religious viewpoint to transfer enshrined souls elsewhere. But criticism of Class A criminals who led Japan into the Showa War is deep-seated, and there are still calls to move their souls to another place.
Abe stressed that he also visited Chinreisha Shrine, which is located on the premises of Yasukuni Shrine. Chinreisha is dedicated to the war dead killed worldwide—not only Japanese but also people of other countries—who are not enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. If he gave such consideration, we believe he should have rather worshipped at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.
It is difficult even for the Emperor and foreign dignitaries to worship at Yasukuni Shrine as long as it stays in its current status. Measures must be studied to make it possible for everyone to worship without any reserve, centering on a plan to build a national memorial site with no religious affiliation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2013)