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Legacy of war in Asia

Japan minister prays at Yasukuni war shrine after Abe's Pearl Harbour visit

Yasukuni is a flashpoint for criticism by China and South Korea which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and aggression

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 3:09pm

A Japanese cabinet minister offered prayers at a controversial Tokyo war shrine on Wednesday, shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a highly symbolic visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbour.

Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of the reconstruction of northern Japan after the massive 2011 tsunami, visited Yasukuni Shrine in the afternoon, his secretary said.

The secretary could only confirm the visit but had no information on why Imamura chose to visit at this time.

Public broadcaster NHK showed Imamura throwing coins into a wooden box as an offering and bowing low at the shrine.

“I reported about this past year’s work, expressed gratitude and prayed for our country’s peace and prosperity,” he said.

Imamura stressed his visit “has nothing to do with” Abe’s trip to Pearl Harbour and the timing is “a coincidence”, according to NHK and other Japanese media.

Imamura also visited the shrine on August 11, several days before the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the second world war.

It has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries such as China and South Korea which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

The indigenous Shinto religious shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, as well as senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after the war.

Imamura’s visit came just hours after Abe and US President Barack Obama paid homage to the more than 2,400 Americans killed on December 7, 1941 in Japan’s surprise attack that drew the United States into the war.

They offered flowers and stood in silence before a memorial to those lost on the USS Arizona - roughly half of all those killed in the assault.

The pair issued declarations about the power of reconciliation and warned against fomenting conflict.

Abe, a staunch conservative who has called for strengthening Japan’s military, has himself avoided visiting Yasukuni in an apparent bid to prevent controversy after going there three years ago on Monday.