Japan's PM Koizumi visits tomb for unkown soldiers
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose visits to a Shinto shrine for war dead have sparked a bitter row with China, joined in a tribute at Japan's tomb of the unknown soldiers on Monday.
As heavy rain fell, Koizumi stood in silence with Japanese politicians and foreign diplomats as the ashes of 300 soldiers were added to those symbolising some 350,000 Japanese soldiers who died in World War II.
Chidorigafuchi, an austere, non-denominational memorial near the Imperial Palace, honor's Japan's unidentified war dead whose remains are symbolically placed in a gold-plated urn inside a wooden coffin housed in a hexagonal pavilion.
Koizumi has visited Yasukuni each year since taking office in 2001 and last went there in January 2004.
Some Japanese have suggested prime ministers could honor war dead without angering China and other Asian neighbors that suffered under Japan's wartime occupation by paying their respects at Chidorigafuchi rather than at Yasukuni.
"In the meantime, I pledge to make efforts to pass on to the next generation many lessons learned from the war in order to ensure eternal peace."
Koizumi, a member of the royal family and foreign diplomats each placed a chrysanthemum on a table set before the memorial's coffin to music from a band of Imperial Palace guards.
The latest remains came mainly from Southeast Asia and Pacific islands including Iwo Jima, where U.S. forces defeated the Japanese in 1945 in a fierce battle that helped turn the tide of World War II.
Yasukuni has long been the focus of controversy, in part because Shinto priests in 1978 added 14 "Class A" war criminals -- leaders including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo -- to the lists of those worshipped as deities at the shrine.
No remains are interred at the shrine.
Sixty years after Japan's defeat in World War II, ordinary Japanese as well as politicians remain divided about official visits to Yasukuni as well as how to view the nation's past.
"The ... prime minister should be able to pay his respects to the war dead (at Yasukuni)," said Toshiko Yasuda, a 54-year-old housewife whose uncle is believed to have died on Iwo Jima.
"The prime minister has apologized for the past mistakes. That is necessary. Japan has done bad things in the past, but what we have to do is think about what to do in the future," added Yasuda, who attended Monday's ceremony.
An official of a veterans group, said he was strongly opposed to Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni.
"I want the government to build a national cemetery. I want a facility where people of various religions and beliefs can pay their respects freely," said the 68-year-old man, who declined to give his name.
Nearly three out of every five Japanese who responded to a poll published by Kyodo news agency on Saturday said they believed Koizumi should not visit Yasukuni this year.
Koizumi has repeatedly said he goes there to pay his respects to the dead and to vow that Japan would never again wage war. He has not yet said when he will visit the shrine again.