Emotions run deep at Japan's WWII tribute

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe places a flower on an altar during the official annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo.
White doves being released as a tribute to the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine on the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II. The shrine has become a lightning rod for criticism by China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's wartime aggression.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
White doves being released as a tribute to the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine on the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II. The shrine has become a lightning rod for criticism by China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's wartime aggr
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe places a flower on an altar during the official annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe places a flower on an altar during the official annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo.
At the shrine yesterday were Mr Koichi Hagiuda (above), Ms Tamayo Marukawa and Ms Sanae Takaichi
At the shrine yesterday were (from top) Mr Koichi Hagiuda, Ms Tamayo Marukawa and Ms Sanae Takaichi
At the shrine yesterday were Mr Koichi Hagiuda, Ms Tamayo Marukawa (above) and Ms Sanae Takaichi
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe places a flower on an altar during the official annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo.
At the shrine yesterday were Mr Koichi Hagiuda, Ms Tamayo Marukawa and Ms Sanae Takaichi (above)

Lawmakers' visit to Yasukuni Shrine upsets Beijing and Seoul

The 71st anniversary of the end of World War II yesterday stirred up raw emotions in Japan and its two North-east Asian neighbours, with the visit of a group of Japanese lawmakers to pay respects at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo causing dismay in Beijing and Seoul.

Separately, 10 South Korean lawmakers marked the anniversary by landing on a crop of disputed islets known as Dokdo to the Koreans and Takeshima to the Japanese for the first time since 2013, the move sparking a diplomatic protest from Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continued to steer clear of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 convicted Class A criminals among 2.5 million war dead. Mr Abe has not visited the Shinto shrine, seen as a symbol of the country's militarism, since December 2013 in an attempt to mend frayed ties with Japan's neighbours.

NATIONAL COMMEMORATION

I don't think the way a country commemorates people who died for their country should be a diplomatic issue.

JAPANESE INTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER SANAE TAKAICHI, who was among the lawmakers who prayed at the shrine yesterday. 

CALL FOR REPENTANCE

(Abe) shied away from mentioning Japan's wartime aggression or the suffering Japan had inflicted upon other countries.

XINHUA, on Mr Shinzo Abe's alleged lack of contrition when he spoke at the annual national memorial.

ISSUE OF TRUST

We urge (them) to bravely face history and actively seek to regain the trust of the neighbouring countries by showing their humble reflection of and repentance for Japan's past through action.

SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTRY'S CHO JUNE HYUCK, expressing concern over the actions of the Japanese politicians.

Yesterday, he sent a ritual offering to the shrine, as he has done in recent years, on his own dime and in his capacity as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Some 67 lawmakers, mostly from the LDP, prayed at the shrine yesterday, among them Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa, and former defence minister Gen Nakatani.

Newly appointed Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, a regular visitor to the shrine, could not visit as she is on a working trip to Djibouti.

Ms Marukawa told reporters after her visit: "As the environment surrounding Japan becomes more complicated and tensions escalate, I asked those enshrined there to watch over us as we make the right decisions to preserve our precious peace."

Said Ms Takaichi: "I don't think the way a country commemorates people who died for their country should be a diplomatic issue."

An annual national memorial was held in Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito echoed the "deep remorse" he expressed for the first time last year.

"Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated," he said yesterday.

Mr Abe also said at the same ceremony that Japan "will never again repeat the devastation of war" and emphasised how Tokyo has "repeatedly provided generous support and made efforts for peace".

But China's official Xinhua news agency pounced on Mr Abe's alleged lack of contrition when he said: "We will not forget even for a moment that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today exist only upon the precious sacrifices of souls."

Urging "earnest reflection and repentance", Xinhua noted how the Japanese leader had never used the word "reflection" in the four ceremonies since he took office, and "shied away from mentioning Japan's wartime aggression or the suffering Japan had inflicted upon other countries".

In Seoul, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June Hyuck said South Korea expressed deep concerns and regret that Japanese politicians had again paid tribute at the shrine that "glorifies Japan's history of invasion".

"We urge (them) to bravely face history and actively seek to regain the trust of the neighbouring countries by showing their humble reflection of and repentance for Japan's past through action," he added.

Aug 15 is the Liberation Day national holiday in Seoul, which marks the date when Japan's harsh 35- year occupation of the Korean peninsula came to an end.

In a televised speech, President Park Geun Hye said: "We should renew the relations between Korea and Japan into a more future-oriented relationship while facing up to history." Her remarks came after Tokyo pledged last week to release 1 billion yen (S$13.3 million) to a Seoul foundation that provides support to Korean wartime "comfort women" following a landmark deal last year.

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story said that the islets were known as Dokto to the Koreans. It should be Dokdo. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Emotions run deep at Japan's WWII tribute'. Print Edition | Subscribe