TOKYO (TR) – Visits by members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to a controversial shrine on the 68th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II were met with mixed responses at home and abroad.
On Thursday morning, Yoshitaka Shindo and Keiji Furuya, the ministers for internal affairs and the North Korea issue, and dozens of members of parliament paid respects at Yasukuni Shrine, located in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward.
Under a blazing sun, an estimated 175,000 people — some in military uniform, others carrying flags and banners praising the Emperor — descended on the shrine’s compound. At noon, a moment of silence was held to pay tribute to those fallen in battle.
“Today is a day when we pray for peace, reflecting on where we have been, quietly bowing our heads and mourning for the departed souls,” said Abe, in speaking with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In response, China recalled its Japanese ambassador, saying the visits “harm the feelings” China’s people.
The 145-year-old Shinto shrine confounds its left-leaning detractors and inspires patriots due to its enshrinement of roughly 2.5 million soldiers, airmen, and seamen, many of whom were encouraged by the belief that their spirit will be enshrined should they die in battle fighting heroically for the Emperor.
Crucially for China and South Korea, both of which suffered suffered under the rule of Japan during World War II, the list of those enshrined includes 14 Class-A war criminals.
Since Abe was reinstated as Japan’s prime minister in December of 2012, both neighboring countries, which are currently engaged in a territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the Pacific Ocean, have repeatedly called upon the the hawkish prime minister to refrain from rekindling the Yasukuni issue.
Instead of visiting the shrine himself Abe offered an envelope of money in the capacity of head of the Liberal Democratic Party, and not prime minister.
For their part, Japan’s right-wing did not find favor with Abe’s decision to avoid the shrine. The Gishin Gokoku-kai verbally blasted the prime minister with a loudspeaker assault as their soundtruck traveled around the government area of Nagatacho.
“He’s a liar,” said Shinichi Kamijo, the leader of the Gishin Gokoku-kai, which later that afternoon clashed with riot police in opposing a left-wing march outside the shrine’s gates. “He has betrayed the people.”