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    New Year’s preparations (Yasukuni Shrine)

    New Year’s Day means pilgrimages to shrines, and as it approaches, the Yasukuni Shrine controversy is refueled yet again:

    The question of whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit Yasukuni Shrine at the beginning of the year is attracting a great deal of attention as any visit is certain to further sour Japan-China relations. But there is domestic opposition to any cancellation based on outside protests.

    It seems the prime minister cannot possibly please both sides.

    Since his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Nov. 21, the prime minister has remained silent about future visits to the shrine.

    His silence on the matter was agreed on prior to the meeting.

    According to lawmakers close to Koizumi, the prime minister believes that focus on his visit to the shrine would undermine the Japan-China relationship.

    Rakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said that a visit by the prime minister to the shrine would have an impact on companies operating in China.

    His remark apparently also contributed to the prime minister’s silence.

    “No country should complain about another country’s tradition,” [Koizumi] said, indicating that he had reached the conclusion after weighing the options.

    I’m not sure a tradition of honoring war criminals equally with citizens in good standing is entirely unassailable, myself. The issue is not an easy one, and the reason I’ve discussed it so often here is that both sides have a point. Which sounds more sympathetic at a given moment depends a lot on whether the wording its representative most recently tossed off to reporters was felicitous (in translation from Chinese to Japanese, in the case of Chinese politicians).

    Ultimately, though, my view of the issue doesn’t really change: while I have no doubt that the PRC is opportunistically looking for ways to cause problems that would get it leverage in trade negotiations with Japan and its adversaries, Japan is asking for it with its blithe let-bygones-be-bygones treatment of its own wartime conduct. If it’s true that Japanese treatment of the dead requires enshrining them all equally, despite differences in how honorable their behavior was while alive–and my understanding is that it really doesn’t–it doesn’t strike me as excessive groveling to explain that. As it is, the pilgrimages look like yet another instance of non-acknowledgement of the seriousness of Japanese acts during the occupation of Asia. Perhaps fixating on them as an important issue in and of themselves is wrong, but the ill-feeling itself isn’t groundless.

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