Koizumi's Shrine Visit Angers Asians, Again

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TOKYO, Oct. 17 -- China and South Korea on Monday angrily protested Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision to make a controversial visit to a shrine that honors Japan's military dead, including convicted World War II war criminals.

After Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the Chinese government canceled a meeting with a visiting Japanese envoy and effectively scrubbed a trip to Beijing by Japan's foreign minister, according to the Kyodo News Service. China's ambassador to Tokyo, Wang Yi, decried Koizumi's move as a "grave provocation to the Chinese people." And the Chinese foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, summoned the Japanese ambassador to lodge a formal diplomatic protest.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon, likewise, summoned the Japanese ambassador in Seoul to issue his protest. Other officials in Seoul said that Koizumi's visit to the shrine would probably cause postponement of a summit intended to ease strained relations.

Koizumi had hinted for months that he would worship as planned at the sprawling Shinto shrine. The annual visit took place Monday morning despite charges both at home and abroad that his appearances there amount to official veneration of Japan's militaristic past.

Because of worsening relations between Japan and other Asian countries, opposition politicians and even some leading members of Koizumi's governing coalition have said they fear the prime minister is unnecessarily rekindling animosities to appease nationalistic supporters. Public opinion polls in Japan indicate an almost even split between approval and disapproval of his visits to the shrine.

"His visit shows that he puts more priority on his personal principle than on national interest during this special year marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II," Kazuo Shii, the head of Japan's Communist Party, told reporters. "His attitude symbolizes the justification and glorification of World War II. His conduct also ignores the sentiment of the people of Asia."

Koizumi's visit to the shrine was his fifth as prime minister. On Monday, he eliminated much of the pomp of his prior appearances there, wearing a dark suit and blue tie rather than the ceremonial kimono he donned last year. Among the more than 2.5 million war dead honored at Yasukuni are Gen. Hideki Tojo, Japan's principal wartime prime minister, and other convicted World War II criminals.

Koizumi bowed and clasped his hands in prayer while standing silently in front of an outer shrine before striding back to his car as a crowd watched in the rain. He did not enter the inner part of the shrine as he has in the past, worshiping instead in a section where all visitors are permitted. Previously, he also signed his name in a shrine register along with his title, "Prime Minister." This time, he wrote only his name. Later, Koizumi told reporters he had gone to the shrine to "pray for peace" but also insisted that other countries had no right to "tell Japan how it should honor its war dead."

Analysts have said the growing economic interdependence of China and Japan make improved ties essential. But experts have also noted that South Korea, once considered a relatively close Japanese ally, is enjoying increasingly warmer relations with China even as both have had problems with Japan.

"The danger is that these visits will isolate Japan in East Asia," said Satoshi Amako, professor of Asia-Pacific studies at Tokyo's Waseda University. "This is obviously not in the best interest of Japan."

Correspondent Edward Cody in Beijing contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company