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Posted on on August 16th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (…

Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008

Cabinet trio visit Yasukuni.

By KAZUAKI NAGATA, Staff writer, Japan Times online.

Cabinet ministers and at least 53 Diet members visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on surrender day Friday while Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and two key ministers opted to keep their distance from the contentious landmark, which served as Japan’s spiritual pillar during the war.

Fukuda, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura all refrained from visiting the Shinto shrine, conforming with Fukuda’s moderate stance of not antagonizing China and South Korea.

The shrine, which honors Japan’s 2.47 million war dead, as well as Class A war criminals, is regarded by many parts of Asia as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. Friday marked the 63rd anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender and is an emotional day for many Japanese.

The 63rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender, Former nationalistic Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe also paid their respects Friday.

Koizumi was notorious for making annual visits to the shrine while prime minister from 2001 to 2006, including on surrender day in his final year. Each visit provoked harsh outcries from China and South Korea.

Joining them Friday were farm minister Seiichi Ota, Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka, consumer affairs minister Seiko Noda and nationalist Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who went for a ninth year in a row.

Noda, often regarded as having the best chance of becoming Japan’s first female prime minister, previously visited the shrine when she was posts minister.

When asked if she felt awkward about coming to the shrine while Fukuda did not, Noda said his decision was based on his opinion and the Cabinet was not told to refrain.

“People have different religious views, so (going to a shrine) should be freely allowed,” said Lower House member Yoshinobu Shimamura, who heads a nonpartisan group that visits the shrine together. Shimamura led 52 other Diet conservatives on the annual visit.

Despite the scorching weather, the shrine attracted a myriad of visitors, many there to witness the lawmakers’ visit.

The shrine served as the backbone for the Shinto fervor that drove Japan’s war. Dead soldiers were enshrined there as gods who protected the country, and many relatives of the war dead still go to Yasukuni to remember loved ones even 63 years after the end of the war.

A 56-year-old man from Ishikawa Prefecture who requested anonymity said Yasukuni’s supporters and detractors both have their points, and it is difficult to say what’s right regarding the politicians’ visits.

The prime minister and other ministers may need to be careful about expressing their views too much because “it is a fact that visiting Yasukuni has caused problems,” he said.

On the other hand, while asserting an understanding of other countries’ viewpoints, he said they should not be so critical of a “domestic” issue.


Fukuda sticks to neutral venues: Prime minister honors nation’s war dead at nonreligious Budokan, Chidorigafuchi ceremonies.

By MASAMI ITO, Staff writer Japan Times online.
Speaking at the annual ceremony to commemorate Japan’s war dead at Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Friday touched on the country’s wartime responsibility to its neighbors and renewed the nation’s pledge to never again wage war.

Friday marked the 63rd anniversary of the public radio address made by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Showa, announcing Japan’s surrender, ending World War II.

Fukuda, echoing several of his predecessors, expressed “deep remorse” to all of the war dead, adding that Japan caused “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”

Fukuda, widely known for his relatively dovish stance toward Asia, did not visit the contentious war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, which many parts of Asia in particular regard as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Instead, he attended the war dead commemoration ceremony and visited the religiously unaffiliated Chidorigafuchi war memorial, near Yasukuni, dedicated to unknown Japanese service members.

The national ceremony at Nippon Budokan Hall is held every Aug. 15 in honor of the 2.3 million Japanese service members and 800,000 Japanese civilians who died in the war, including those killed by massive U.S. air raids on major cities and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We have not forgotten for even a moment that the peace and prosperity of today was created because of the sacred sacrifices of those who lost their precious lives in the war,” Fukuda said during the ceremony.

Others in attendance included Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, lawmakers from various parties, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper.

“Looking back on history, I earnestly hope the horrors of war will not be repeated,” the Emperor said.

“Together with the public, I pay a heartfelt tribute to those who lost their lives on the battlefield and fell in the ravages of war, and pray for world peace and further development of our country.”

According to the health ministry, 4,579 relatives of the war dead attended the ceremony. More than 60 years after the war, their numbers are dwindling at the annual ceremony. Nearly half are 64 years old or older.

The oldest living relative is 95 years old but asks that his name be withheld. The youngest are two 9-year-old great-grandchildren of fallen servicemen.

During the ceremony, House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono urged the government to build a nonreligious war memorial hall to replace Yasukuni Shrine.

In 2002, Fukuda himself proposed such a hall, while stressing it could coexist with Yasukuni, not replace it.

Fukuda’s proposal, however, was shelved by conservative politicians who feared it would diminish the shrine’s role.

“The government should seriously consider establishing a memorial facility that is not based on a particular religion and one where everyone can unite and pay tribute,” Kono said. “Our nation and our neighboring countries still have unresolved issues related to history that have become a thorn and are causing friction.”

Meanwhile, at a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government “does not need to take action” immediately to push for the alternative memorial facility.

Yasukuni Shrine, located in Chiyoda Ward, has become a cause of strain between Japan and neighboring parts of Asia in part because of the Class-A war criminals enshrined along with Japanese service members who died fighting for Japan.

Every year, the spotlight shines on the shrine and whether the prime minister and any of his Cabinet ministers will pay a visit.


War widow – now 94-year old –   goes to first ceremony. Her husband was killed   in the Philippines.

Kyodo News, Over the past 63 years, Yotsu Iimura had not joined the annual national memorial ceremony on Aug. 15 to commemorate the war dead.

But this year, the 94-year-old decided to come although she is in a wheelchair, becoming one of the oldest relatives of the war dead attending the ceremony, which is seeing fewer and fewer participants as the survivors pass away with the years.

“My heart is too full to talk. I’m really happy,” she said, entering Tokyo Budokan Hall.

This year, 4,579 surviving kin of deceased Japanese soldiers attended the Budokan ceremony. A decade ago, the number was 5,662.

Iimura had hesitated to attend because “many bereaved families had been attending the ceremony,” she said.

“But not much time is left for me, either. I feel lonely since fewer families are attending,” she said.

Iimura’s husband, Shoji, was killed in action on Luzon Island in the Philippines at age 31. He had been a refrigerator maker before being drafted in 1944. Iimura learned in 1947 that her husband was dead.

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) –   William Bunce, who helped disestablish Shinto as Japan’s state religion during the Allied Occupation, died of chronic pneumonia in Maryland on July 23, The Washington Post reported Thursday. He was 100.

Bunce served as chief of the Religious and Cultural Resources Division at the general headquarters of the Allied Forces, working to separate militarism and nationalism from Shinto to promote the demilitarization of Japan under orders from the Allied commander in chief, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the paper said.

But Bunce allowed Shinto, stripped of its nationalism, to continue and believers to worship privately, it said.

A native of Ohio, Bunce earned a master’s degree in history from Ohio State University in 1933 and taught English at a Japanese junior college during the 1930s, according to the Washington Post.

After the Occupation, he became a diplomat and served at embassies in India and South Korea before retiring in 1971.

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