Yasukuni Shrine

Diaoyu Islands activist from Hong Kong starts fire at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine in protest at ‘Japanese militarism’

  • Man arrested after demonstrator sets fire to ancestral tablet and displays banner reading: ‘Lest we forget the Nanking massacre’
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 6:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 7:15pm

A Hong Kong man was on Wednesday arrested in Japan on suspicion of starting a fire inside a war shrine at the centre of the country’s frayed relationship with its Asian neighbours.

The 55-year-old man allegedly lit a fire inside the grounds of Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 2.5 million war dead but also enshrines second world war criminals.

The blaze was quickly extinguished with no report of any damage or injuries, according to local media.

The suspect was arrested on suspicion of trespassing, and a woman was also detained, the reports said.

Hong Kong’s No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said the government had been in touch with the Chinese embassy in Tokyo and the office of the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s centre for consular protection and services said the embassy had asked to visit the pair.

All suitable and practical help would be offered to the man, Cheung said.

The Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, a Hong Kong-based activist group that asserts Chinese sovereignty over the isles in the East China Sea, claimed responsibility for the man’s protest.

The incident comes ahead of the 81st anniversary of the Nanking massacre in 1937. China says 300,000 people died in a six-week destruction by the Japanese military of the city now known as Nanjing. The occupation remains a source of bad blood between the two Asian powers.

Japanese lawmakers visit war-linked Yasukuni Shrine

The committee said two of its members were sent to the shrine, with Alex Kwok Siu-kit staging the protest and Yim Man-wa filming.

According to a video on the group’s Facebook page, Kwok set fire to an ancestral tablet inscribed with the words: “Class-A war criminal Hideki Tojo”.

The activist then displayed a banner with the message: “Lest we forget the Nanking massacre”, and chanted the slogan: “Down with Japanese militarism”.

Kwok was approached by an official of the shrine within a minute of beginning his protest.

The Nanking massacre is the subject of disagreement over the scale of the slaughter. In China, outrage greets periodic denials by Japanese conservatives that the massacre even happened.

Despite the rows over history and territorial disputes, relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been improving in recent years.

Japan’s emperor expresses war ‘remorse’ as PM Shinzo Abe sends offering to controversial Yasukuni Shrine

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe travelled to China in October for the first official visit by a Japanese leader since 2011. But the Yasukuni Shrine has been a regular source of tension. Visits by senior Japanese politicians routinely draw angry reactions from China and South Korea, and Abe has avoided trips to the site in recent years.

In 2015, a South Korean man detonated a home-made pipe bomb in the toilets at the shrine, but no one was hurt in the blast.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse