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Monday, October 17, 2005

Japanese PM Visits Tokyo War Shrine | theledger.com

Japanese PM Visits Tokyo War Shrine | theledger.comJapanese PM Visits Tokyo War Shrine

By MARI YAMAGUCHI
Associated Press Writer
TOKYO
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed at a Tokyo shrine honoring the country's war dead Monday, defying critics who say the visits glorify militarism and risking a further deterioration in relations with China and South Korea.

The visit was Koizumi's fifth to the Yasukuni Shrine since becoming prime minister in April 2001, and came despite a recent court decision that found the visits violate Japan's constitutional division of religion and the state. Koizumi suggests the visits are personal, but as in past occasions, he arrived in an official car, accompanied by his aides.

Koizumi last went to Yasukuni in January 2004, triggering protests by Beijing and Seoul and compounding tensions between Tokyo and its neighbors. Those tensions peaked in April with anti-Japanese riots in several Chinese cities.

The international implications of the visit were immediately apparent. South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon summoned Japanese Ambassador Shotaro Oshima to protest shortly after the visit. Kyodo News agency reported that the Japanese Embassy in Beijing had issued a warning urging Japanese citizens to be cautious.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine has been the biggest stumbling block that has strained South Korea-Japan relations," Ban told Oshima. "Our government has repeatedly requested that he not visit the shrine, which enshrines war criminals who inflicted indescribable suffering and pain in the past."

Japan's 2.5 million war dead are worshipped as deities at Yasukuni, a shrine in Japan's native Shinto religion. They include executed war criminals from World War II, such as wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The shrine also runs a museum that justifies Japan's wartime aggression.

The visits are popular among conservatives and the families of soldiers who died in World War II.

"If my children were dead and enshrined here, I would want him to make a visit," Kyoko Matsuura, a woman in her 40s who was in a crowd at the shrine. "I think he comes here with a commitment not to repeat a war."

Public opinion, however, is split over the visits. Nippon Television conducted a poll over the weekend showing that 47.6 percent of respondents supported the visits, while 45.5 percent were opposed. NTV surveyed 479 people from Friday to Sunday, and provided no margin of error.

Several other rulings have avoided ruling on the constitutionality of the visits.

The visits have enraged Japanese neighbors and deteriorated relations with South Korea and China, which bore the brunt of Tokyo's aggressive conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century. They are also disputed over Japanese history textbooks, ownership of uninhabited islets as well as rights to undersea resources.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, the chief government spokesman, said the prime minister did not visit the shrine in his official capacity on Monday, and indicated that he expected protests from neighboring nations.

"There may be various diplomatic actions may develop later on but I cannot predict what exactly may happen," Hosoda said.

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