Politicians accused of extremism after photos with Japanese far-right leader
Politicians move to distance themselves from controversy after posing with far-right leader
Two newly promoted Japanese politicians moved yesterday to distance themselves from allegations of extremism after pictures emerged of them posing alongside the leader of a domestic neo-Nazi party.
Minister Sanae Takaichi and party policy chief Tomomi Inada were seen in separate photographs next to Kazunari Yamada on the home page of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party.
The pictures will add fuel to claims that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is increasingly surrounding himself with people on the right of Japanese politics.
Yamada's blog postings indicate admiration for Adolf Hitler and praise for the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre.
Captions for the photographs claimed they were taken "sometime in June or July 2011 when [Yamada] visited conservative lawmakers for talks".
Spokesmen for both senior lawmakers acknowledged yesterday that the photographs were genuine and had been taken in their offices over the last few years, but denied there was any political affiliation.
"He was an assistant for an interviewer, and was taking notes and photos," a member of staff at Takaichi's office said, referring to Yamada.
"We had no idea who he was back then, but he requested a snap shot with her. [The minister] wouldn't refuse such requests."
Following media inquiries, the office had now asked that the pictures be removed, he said.
"It was careless of us," he said, adding that Takaichi did not share Yamada's view "at all ... it is a nuisance".
A staffer at Inada's office said the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief did not subscribe to Nazi ideology.
"It is disappointing if there are people who would misunderstand that she does," he said.
Abe has courted criticism for his strident nationalism and views on history that some find unpalatable.
In particular, his unwillingness to condemn imperial Japan's behaviour up to and during the second world war has proved a sticking point in international relations.
His equivocations about the formalised system of sex slavery, the controversial issue of the so-called comfort women, has particularly irked South Korea and China. Both regularly call on him to re-think his views.
Abe's new 18-strong cabinet, announced last week, includes a number of people with hawkish views. Both Takaichi and Inada have visited Yasukuni Shrine, the supposed repository of the souls of Japan's war dead, including a number of convicted war criminals. The shrine is seen in Asia as a symbol of Japan's lack of repentance for the war.
Takaichi, Japan's new internal affairs minister, said last week she intended to continue visiting the shrine.
"I've been visiting Yasukuni as one Japanese individual to offer my sincere appreciation to the spirits of war dead," Takaichi said last Friday.
"I intend to continue offering my sincere appreciation as one Japanese."
The new defence minister, Akinori Eto, also a member of the lawmakers' group that advocates visiting the shrine, said when asked about the shrine last Wednesday that he did not want to cause trouble for the government, indicating a more cautious stance.
Abe paid his respects at the shrine in December, sharply chilling ties with China and South Korea, with which relations had already been strained over territorial disputes.
Additional reporting by Reuters