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Japan: Lawmakers visit controversial Yasukuni Shrine

Some 100 Japanese members of parliament prayed at the memorial that commemorates Japan's war dead — including convicted war criminals. South Korea and China slammed the visit.

A nonpartisan group of Japanese lawmakers visits Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo

A group of lawmakers usually visits the controversial shrine for its spring and autumn festivals

About 100 Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, triggering protest from South Korea.

The visit marked the first time the group has prayed at the controversial shrine since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The group of lawmakers was also joined by nine state ministers and officials from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Official visits to the memorial have long sparked criticism from China and South Korea as the shrine commemorates Japanese war dead, including convicted war criminals.  

Critics see the visits as a symbol of a lack of remorse over Japan's wartime actions.

A general view of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo

The Yasukuni Shrine honors millions of Japanese war dead — but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II

How did Seoul and Beijing respond?

South Korea expressed on Tuesday "deep concern and regret" over the "large-scale visit" to the memorial.

In a Foreign Ministry statement, Seoul reiterated that the shrine "beautifies Japan's colonial pillage and war of aggression."

"We are again strongly pointing out that the international community could trust Japan when it faces up to history correctly and demonstrates its humble reflection of the past and sincere remorse through actions," the ministry said.

Beijing also sharply criticized the visit. China's Foreign Office spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused Tokyo of provocation, saying that it was "no coincidence" that the group chose the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago for their visit, adding: "What are they up to?"

PM Kishida stays away

Kishida, who became prime minister in early October, sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni for the autumn festival but has not paid an official visit to the shrine since he took office. 

On August 15 this year, then-Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga marked the 76th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II —  but also seemed to avoid visiting the controversial memorial. 

However, on the same day, three ministers from Suga's Cabinet and his predecessor Shinzo Abe paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, sparking criticism. 

While visits to the shrine bring Japan diplomatic rebukes, they are seen as a domestic tactic to gain support from the conservative wing of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. 

Japan's state-owned broadcaster NHK reported that the group that visited the site on Tuesday included lawmakers of the LDP, as well as from the right-wing Nippon Ishin Japan Innovation Party and the center-right Democratic Party for the People.

Members of a far right group parade at the entrance of the Yasukuni Shrine in August 2020

In this image from August 2020, members of a far-right group parade at the entrance of the Yasukuni Shrine

Why is the Yasukuni Shrine controversial? 

Founded in 1869, the memorial is dedicated to some 2.5 million men, women and children who have died in Japan's wars.

Among the Japanese commemorated at the site are World War II leaders who were convicted of war crimes. 

The Yasukuni Shrine is seen as a symbol of Japan's history of military aggression, which Tokyo often faces calls to apologize for.

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought the United States into World War II. The date was December 8 in Japan.

fb/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)