Japanese PM avoids sensitive war shrine
Updated: 2011-08-16 08:32
TOKYO / NANJING - Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his ministers stayed away from the Yasukuni Shrine on Monday as Japan marked the 66th anniversary of its surrender in World War II.
However, more than 50 politicians from the conservative opposition - including former prime minister Shinzo Abe and current opposition leader Sadakazu Tanigaki - visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war criminals and is seen by neighboring Asian countries as a symbol of Japan's past imperialist aggression.
The anniversary comes as Japan struggles to recover from the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged its northeastern coast and sparked a crisis at its Fukushima nuclear plant, the world's worst atomic accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Kan instead went to a Tokyo cemetery for the war dead and placed a bouquet of flowers at a memorial.
Japan will recover from the March 11 quake and tsunami just as it did after World War II, Kan said at a service marking the day Japanese emperor Hirohito declared defeat, ending the war.
"Our country rose from the ruins after the war thanks to each citizen's effort and has overcome many difficulties until today," he said.
Emperor Akihito, the son of the late Hirohito, attended the service at the Budokan indoor arena with Empress Michiko and addressed the audience of more than 6,000 guests.
"I remember the history and ardently pray that the tragedy of war will never be repeated," the 77-year-old emperor said.
"Together with all the people, I express my heartfelt sorrow for those lost in the war and pray for world peace and the country's continued prosperity."
Kan, the center-left leader whose party took power in September 2009, also refrained from visiting the shrine last year.
Previous pilgrimages to Yasukuni by conservative premiers provoked outrage in China and on the Korean Peninsula, where memories of Japan's wartime atrocities still linger.
Wang Ping, a researcher on Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that despite Kan's enhanced efforts to strengthen the Japanese-US alliance to contain China, he has taken a "fairly acceptable attitude" toward key issues such as whether or not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.
Meanwhile, a peaceful assembly was held at the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders on Monday to mark the 66th anniversary of China's victory in the "War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression".
More than 100 Chinese citizens and Japanese pacifists attended the event to express condolences for the 300,000 victims of the massacre and pray for world peace.
Historical issues remain the largest obstacle for Chinese people to form a favorable opinion about Japan. A recent poll showed that the reason cited most among Chinese people (74.2 percent) for their enmity toward Japan was its aggression in China before and during World War II. Japan's failure to fully atone for its aggression was cited most among students and teachers (86.1 percent).
The Public Opinion on China-Japan Relations 2011 poll, released last week in Beijing, revealed that about 29 percent of Chinese had a favorable opinion toward Japan, a decline of 10 percent over last year. That's the first drop since the annual survey was started in 2005.