Second Japan Cabinet minister visits Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo

Japan's Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki (right) leaving the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
Japan's Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki (right) leaving the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's justice minister visited a Tokyo war shrine on Saturday (April 23) morning, to become the second member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet attending its latest ritual, which has already angered China and South Korea.

The Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of Japanese dead, including several senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.

"I paid respect in order to express my gratitude to the souls of those who fought for the nation and sacrificed their lives," Mr Mitsuhide Iwaki told reporters.

His visit came a day after dozens of lawmakers, including Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, made their pilgrimage to the leafy central Tokyo shrine for a spring festival.

Their visits immediately drew angry reactions from China and South Korea, which see it as a symbol of Tokyo's militaristic past.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June Hyuck said in a statement that the shrine "beautifies the colonial past and war of aggression, and enshrines war criminals".

But Mr Abe and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to burial grounds such as Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

Mr Abe went in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a visit that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned him a diplomatic rebuke from the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.

He made a ritual offering to the shrine earlier this week, but refrained from going, and reactions by China and South Korea to Yasukuni visits, while remaining critical, have become less intense as Japan has taken steps over the past 18 months to improve relations with both countries and Mr Abe has held summit meetings with their leaders.