TOKYO (AP) — A group of about 100 Japanese lawmakers prayed at a Tokyo shrine viewed by China and the Koreas as a symbol of Japanese wartime aggression on Tuesday, 80 years after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many of the lawmakers, including nine vice ministers and special aides in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, are members of his conservative governing party.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, brought the United States into World War II. In Japan, the date was Dec. 8.
Victims of Japanese aggression during the first half of the 20th century, especially Chinese and Koreans, see Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s militarism because it honors its war dead, including convicted war criminals.
Visits and donations to the shrine by Japanese political leaders are seen by critics as a sign of a lack of remorse over the country’s wartime actions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the lawmakers’ visit was a “deliberate move and provocation.”
“The Japanese dignitaries’ visit to the shrine again shows Japan’s wrong attitude towards the history of aggression,” Zhao said.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern and regret” on Tuesday over the “large-scale” visit to a shrine that “beautifies Japan’s colonial pillage and war of aggression.” It said in a statement that Japan instead should show “humble reflection and sincere remorse” about its wartime past to win back the trust of the international community.
Hidehisa Otsuji, a senior member of Kishida’s party, said the group prayed to the spirits of the war dead to protect Japan from the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the first time the group has prayed at Yasukuni since the pandemic began early last year.
The lawmakers are members of a parliamentary group that has regularly paid tribute at the shrine on the anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15 and during the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals.
Otsuji also told reporters that he wished Kishida would visit the shrine soon.
Kishida and Cabinet ministers did not join the group visit Tuesday. He donated religious offerings called “masakaki” to observe the shrine’s autumn festival.
Japanese leaders have avoided visiting the shrine while in office after China and the Koreas reacted with outrage to a visit by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013.
Earlier this year, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s younger brother, visited the shrine.