When Junichiro Koizumi was campaigning for the leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2001 he promised families of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association he would visit the Yasukuni shrine each year. But recently in July the same Association had actually asked him to stop visiting the shrine, stating:
"It is important that the spirits of the war dead rest in peace. It is necessary to pay consideration to neighboring countries and win their understanding."
But Japan’s PM Koizumi has ignored the advice and wishes of the very people he claimed to visit the shrine for. He has just visited the shrine again, much to the anger of South Korea, China, Taiwan and Singapore. The anger against Koizumi's visit has been fuelled further by 100 Japanese parliamentarians who also made the provocative visits.
South Korea has stated that it may cancel a pending visit by Koizumi to Seoul to visit the South Korean President while China has cancelled a meeting between the two nations’ foreign ministers.
The Yasukuni shrine housed Japan’s war dead like Arlington does for the USA’s. The problem is that the Japanese war shrine also housed 14 Class A war criminals, who were responsible for the savage atrocities committed in Korea, China, Singapore and many Asian countries during WWII. Paying homage to those war criminals is akin to the German Chancellor paying homage at the shrine of Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazi leaders.
Many political observers wondered why, after such a resounding victory in Japan’s last general election, Koizumi sees it necessary to pay such a visit even though he claimed he did it as a private individual rather than as the PM of Japan. Indeed he seems unnecessarily obstinate and defiant after the Osaka High Court had ruled last month that his visits were official and thus breached the constitutional division between religion and state.
The reality of Japanese politics lies not in soothing the feelings of families of the war dead (for haven’t they told him to stop the visits?) but in the powerful rightwing faction of the LDP who wants Japan to stop feeling guilty about its ‘glorious and powerful’ past. The LDP rightwing faction has been guilty of historical revisionism (changing facts of WWII by erasing records of Japanese aggression and atrocities from school text books) and various other issues of Japan’s notorious wartime past.
Koizumi is beholden to these people in the same way as President Bush is beholden to the American Christian Right. Koizumi would imperil the election prospects of his LDP if he ignores the string pulling by those king-makers, in the same way as Bush would jeopardise the Republican Party’s election prospects if he doesn’t consider the agenda of the Christian Right.
Both Koizumi and Bush are captives of their ultra rightwing supporters.