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Legacy of war in Asia

Japan PM Abe avoids visit to controversial Yasukuni Shrine – but concerns China and South Korea with tree gift

The ‘masakaki’ tree is traditionally used in rituals celebrated by Japan’s Shinto religion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 11:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 9:50pm

China and South Korea on Tuesday voiced concern after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

The conservative premier – who has been criticised for what some see as a revisionist take on Japan’s wartime record – sent a sacred “masakaki” tree bearing his name to Yasukuni Shrine as it started a four-day autumn festival.

Visits and ritual offerings made by proxy to the infamous shrine by Japanese leaders have consistently sparked strong criticism from China and South Korea. Both countries were brutalised by Japan during the second world war.

The shrine honours millions of Japanese war dead, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes.

“China’s position on the issue of Yasukuni Shrine is consistent and clear-cut,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“We urge Japan to faithfully face up to its history of aggression and deeply reflect upon it,” Lu said, adding that Japan should “win the trust of Asian neighbours and the international community with actual action.”

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said: “The South Korean government expresses concern about a Japanese politician in a responsible post having sent a ritual offering once again to Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies a war of aggression.

“The Japanese government should display humble reflection and repentance toward historical issues, based on a correct understanding of history, with sincere actions.”

No prominent Japanese political figures were seen at the shrine early Tuesday, however some Cabinet members and senior lawmakers also made ritual offerings.

Abe was expected to pass on visiting the site during the festival, according to media in Japan, which is in the middle of campaigning for a snap election on Sunday.

Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was “disappointed” by the action.

But he has since refrained from going, sending ritual offerings instead.

Agence France-Presse and Kyodo