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S. Korea calls on Japan to confront history amid Yasukuni Shrine visit

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : April 23, 2024 - 15:28

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A Shinto priest leads Japanese lawmakers during a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine at the end of the spring festival, in Tokyo on Tuesday. (AFP) A Shinto priest leads Japanese lawmakers during a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine at the end of the spring festival, in Tokyo on Tuesday. (AFP)

The South Korean government on Tuesday expressed regret over the visit of a Japanese minister and more than 90 lawmakers to pay respect at the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates those who died in service to Japan over several wars, including war criminals from the World War II period.

"The government urges responsible leaders of Japan to squarely face history, and demonstrate through action their humble reflection and sincere remorse for Japan's past," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk said during a televised regular briefing.

Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi paid her respects at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Tuesday, becoming the second Cabinet member to do so, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported. This followed a visit to the shrine by Economic Revitalization Minister Yoshitaka Shindo on Sunday morning.

A cross-party delegation of 94 Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine earlier in the day, coinciding with the third day of the shrine's annual spring rites, according to Kyodo.

Notable attendees included Hiroshi Moriyama, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's General Council, and Hiroshi Kajiyama, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP. They were joined by lawmakers representing the conservative, populist Nippon Ishin no Kai, also known as the Japan Innovation Party

The suprapartisan group, predominantly comprising conservative lawmakers, has made regular visits to the shrine during its annual spring and fall rites, as well as on the anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15.

The visits were followed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's ritual "masakaki" tree offering to the controversial shrine on Sunday, marking the first day of the shrine’s annual spring rites.

Since assuming office as prime minister in 2021, Kishida has chosen not to personally visit the Yasukuni Shrine but has instead opted to send offerings.

The Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to around 2.5 million Japanese people who died in wars from the 19th century onward, including World War II. However, it is controversial because that number includes 1,068 convicted war criminals, including 14 Class A war criminals who were convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1948, such as the wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

South Korea has consistently voiced disappointment over Japanese leaders and lawmakers paying respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which is perceived as glorifying Japan's militaristic past. This militarism ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945.

Koreans have continued to harbor resentment over Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), during which Koreans suffered various atrocities and oppression at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces.

However, Seoul's response on Tuesday appears to be toned down, as the Foreign Ministry refrained from issuing a spokesperson's commentary this time, despite previous instances of doing so in response to visits and offerings sent by Japanese leaders and lawmakers to the Yasukuni Shrine.

The Foreign Ministry's spokesperson presented the government's stance on the visits in response to media inquiries during the Tuesday press briefing.

"We released a spokesperson's commentary on Sunday regarding paying respects to the Yasukuni Shrine. Repeating (a statement) on the same matter may appear inappropriate," a senior Foreign Ministry official said during a closed-door briefing.

"After comprehensively considering past precedents and the factor (of repetition), we have decided our government's stance on this issue."

Over the past month, there have been a series of protests from South Korea against Japan's historical distortions and sovereignty claims over the Dokdo islets in middle school textbooks and annual diplomatic policy report.