TOKYO: Japan’s hawkish defense minister prayed Thursday at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, the day after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a highly symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor.
Yasukuni Shrine honors millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is controversial for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
It has been criticized by countries such as China and South Korea which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Tomomi Inada’s visit was her first since taking the key defense portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.
“By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world,” she told reporters.
She noted that Barack Obama — “the president of a country that dropped atomic bombs” — had gone to Hiroshima earlier this year, while Abe “voiced words to console the spirits of the dead” at Pearl Harbor.
The timing is likely to prove highly contentious coming so soon after Abe and Obama’s joint visit to the site of Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on the navy base in Hawaii that drew the US into World War II.
Inada is a close confidante of Abe with staunchly nationalist views. Abe, who was reportedly playing golf, said he had “no comment” on her visit, Jiji Press said.
South Korea was quick to criticize Inada.
“Our government cannot but deplore” the visit, foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-Hyuck said in a statement, while in separate comments the defense ministry expressed “grave concern and regret”.