Japan’s new industry minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, has become the first member of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead in Tokyo, local media reported.
Nishimura, who was appointed to his ministerial post on Wednesday following a cabinet reshuffle, visited the shrine on Saturday, Kyodo News reported.
Yasukuni is seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese former military aggression because it honours, among some 2.5 million war dead, 14 Japanese World War II leaders convicted as war criminals by an allied tribunal.
“I resolved to make utmost efforts for the peace and development of Japan, also thinking of the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” Nishimura told reporters, according to Kyodo News, and referencing the former Japanese premier killed last month.
Abe was shot dead on July 8 and Nishimura belongs to the party faction that was led by Abe.
Abe was engulfed in controversy when he visited the shrine in December 2013, shortly after taking office. He refrained from visiting Yasukuni for the rest of his tenure as prime minister to avoid angering China and South Korea.
Nishimura was visiting the shrine before the 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, which takes place on Monday.
South Korea expressed “deep disappointment and regret” at Nishimura’s visit. The shrine “glorifies Japan’s past war of aggression and enshrines war criminals”, the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
Yasukuni was established in 1869 by Japan’s Emperor Meiji to enshrine the souls of fighters who had died in the country’s civil wars.
The deceased from later conflicts – nearly 2.5 million people in total – including wars with the Qing dynasty of China, Russia and World War II are also memorialised at the shrine.
— Kyodo News | Japan (@kyodo_english) August 13, 2022
Controversy erupted in 1978 when 14 Japanese civilian and military leaders convicted by a post-war international tribunal and known as “Class A war criminals” were enshrined.
Sacred to nationalists, Yasukuni has become a lightning rod for critics, particularly in China, the two Koreas and Taiwan.
Some in Japan also say the temple glorifies its militaristic and colonial past for which they say the country has yet to properly atone.