TOKYO – At least two Japanese Cabinet ministers paid respects Friday at a Tokyo shrine that honors the war dead including convicted criminals, a move that may outrage China and South Korea, but the prime minister is expected to stay away.
Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, one of the two ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine, said it was "only natural as a Japanese" to honor those who had given up their lives for their country.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo also went, his parliamentary office said, while declining further comment.
The enshrinement of Class-A war criminals, such as Hideki Tojo, among the 2.5 million war dead honored at Yasukuni Shrine makes the visits a target of criticism from China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's wartime aggression and see the shrine as a symbol of that brutality.
Although extremist nationalists throng the monumental shrine in central Tokyo, wearing old solider uniforms and tooting bugle horns, thousands of regular people also go to the shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II nearly seven decades ago, marking Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni in December, drawing widespread criticism. But Aug. 15 is a key date as it marks the day in 1945, when Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender on the radio, the first time the general public had even heard his voice as he had been billed to be almost divine.
Last month, Abe's Cabinet approved an interpretation of Japan's post-World War II constitution, which was written by the U.S., to allow Japanese troops to be part of what is called "collective self-defense," or working with allies, including the U.S., in defensive military activities.
Relations with neighboring Asian nations have been strained over such moves and longstanding territorial disputes.
Some critics are worried Japan will repeat what they see as its historical mistakes and get sucked into war. Pacifism remains powerful as a public sentiment here, especially among older people, who remember the massive airstrikes of Tokyo, as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama