Two of Japan’s Cabinet members may visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine during the Autumn Festival later this month. Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Yoshitaka Shindo, and Keiji Furuya, the minister in charge of the North Korean abductions issue, were named to be possibly paying tribute to Japanese who died in war.
People usually visit shrines during festivals, including Yasukuni, which never fails to remind China and South Korea of Japan’s imperial past and atrocities. Both are also uninhibited when criticizing a Japanese prime minister or Cabinet minister who makes a visit, even when said to be on a personal basis. The shrine is home to more than 2 million Japanese who died in war since the late Tokugawa Period, including 14 convicted of Class-A war crimes during World War II.
“Within the scope of freedom of religion, we [are allowed to visit the shrine] as part of our private activities,” Shindo said on Tuesday. The internal affairs minister also revealed that he “routinely visits” the shrine. “I will decide [whether to make a visit during the autumn festival] depending on my schedule.” The Autumn Festival will be held on October 17-20.
As for Furuya, who is in charge of the issue on North Korea abducting Japanese nationals, he also claimed that he “never failed to visit the shrine during annual festivals.” Besides seasonal festivals, Japanese also visit the shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII. He and Shindo were among those who visited the shrine on that day this year. “It is a domestic matter in what form we console the souls of the war dead,” Furuya said.
Despite controversy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not prohibit his cabinet members from visiting one of the sources of historical tensions. Abe leaves the decision to his Cabinet as part of “their own free will.” But the prime minister himself has made no appearance at the shrine this year in order to avoid international criticism.