On the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival in Japan, around 146 Japanese lawmakers made a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for its spring festival. Earlier, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had decided to forego the visit to the war-related shrine as it might put undue pressure on the talks he will be having with Obama. But these lawmakers – from both houses of the Diet – made the trip which is likely to draw strong criticism from Japan’s neighbors, especially China and South Korea.
The group of lawmakers who visited the shrine included members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and the Japan Restoration Party. Visits of high-ranking government officials to the Tokyo shrine has been a constant source of criticism from Japan’s regional neighbors, as the shrine honors Japanese war dead which included convicted war criminals from the Second World War. The Yasukuni Shrine, particularly for China and South Korea, is seen as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression.
The Japanese government has taken a seemingly neutral stance regarding visits to the highly controversial shrine. It has not forbidden the visits, but it has declared that any visit by a government minister or official will be done on his own personal volition and has nothing to do with the government’s position as a whole. Prime Minister Abe himself chose to dedicate a “masakaki” tree offering and had it sent to the shrine on Monday, choosing the less combustible path but also saving face with his conservative supporters by making the offering.