Kerry at 'Japan's Arlington' in US war shrine nudge
AFPTOKYO -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid a wreath at a Tokyo cemetery Thursday, in an apparent American attempt to nudge Japan away from lionizing its controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
October 4, 2013, 12:17 am TWN
Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel became the most senior foreign dignitaries to pay their respects at Chidorigafuchi, a cemetery near Tokyo's Imperial Palace, since the Argentine president in 1979, a cemetery official said.
Another official told AFP the visit had been instigated by the U.S. and had not come about as a result of a Japanese invitation.
U.S. defense officials said the cemetery was Japan's “closest equivalent” to Arlington National Cemetery.
That view contradicts hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has likened Yasukuni, where 14 “Class A” war criminals are among the 2.5 million enshrined, to the U.S. national cemetery in Virginia.
During a visit to the United States in May, he told Foreign Affairs magazine that the shrine, seen throughout East Asia as a symbol of Japan's militarism, was a tribute to those “who lost their lives in the service of their country.”
“I think it's quite natural for a Japanese leader to offer prayer for those who sacrificed their lives for their country, and I think this is no different from what other world leaders do,” he said.
Abe, who was also prime minister from 2006 to 2007, has stayed away from the shrine thus far, amid angry denunciations by China and South Korea of visits by his ministers.
Around 100 lawmakers, including three cabinet ministers, went to the shrine on Aug. 15 this year.
While the prime minister stayed away, he sent an offering with an aide.
Unlike Arlington, Yasukuni's caretakers promote a view of history that is controversial even at home, with the accompanying Yushukan museum staunchly defending much of Japan's wartime record.
A U.S. official told media Kerry and Hagel were paying tribute at Chidorigafuchi in the same way that “Japanese defence ministers regularly lay wreaths at Arlington.”
“This memorial is the closest equivalent. It honors Japanese soldiers, civilians, and support personnel killed on WWII battlefields but whose remains were never recovered by their families. It is a gesture of reconciliation and respect.”