In China and South Korea, the Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead is seen as a symbol of Japan’s earlier military aggression.
Japan’s new industry minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, has become the first member of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet to visit Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine for the war dead, local media said.
Nishimura, who was appointed to his ministerial post on Wednesday following a cabinet reshuffle, visited the shrine on Saturday, Kyodo News reported.
Yasukuni is seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese ex-military aggression because of the 2.5 million war dead 14 Japanese World War II leaders convicted as war criminals by the Allied Tribunal.
“I am determined to do my best for the peace and development of Japan, thinking of the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” Nishimura told reporters, according to Kyodo News, and referring to the former Japanese prime minister who was assassinated last month.
Abe was shot dead on July 8, and Nishimura belonged to a faction of the party led by Abe.
Abe was embroiled in controversy when he visited the shrine in December 2013, shortly after taking office. He avoided visiting Yasukuni for the rest of his tenure as prime minister to avoid angering China and South Korea.
Nishimura was visiting the shrine ahead of Monday’s 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
South Korea expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over Nishimura’s visit. South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the shrine “glorifies Japan’s past war of aggression and arrests war criminals”.
Yasukuni was established in 1869 by Japan’s Emperor Meiji to house the souls of soldiers who died during the country’s civil war.
The temple also commemorates a total of about 2.5 million people who died in later conflicts – including the wars with the Qing dynasty in China, Russia and World War II.
— Kyodo News | Japan (@kyodo_english) 13 August 2022
In 1978, 14 Japanese civilian and military leaders who were convicted by a post-war international tribunal and known as “Class A war criminals” were put on trial.
Sacred to nationalists, Yasukuni has become a lightning rod for critics, particularly in China, the two Koreas and Taiwan.
Some in Japan also say the shrine glorifies its military and colonial past for which they say the country has yet to properly atone.