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    Long shadows

    My thoughts on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing haven’t changed much over the last two years. The number of survivors who remember the end of the war has been gradually decreasing, since the average life expectancy for that age group in Japan is around eighty; but how to think about the war remains, of course, a big sticking point in East Asia.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso has been saying and saying that pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine shouldn’t be a diplomatic or election issue, but he’s aware that the problem isn’t going away. His proposal for lessening the controversy is to make the shrine non-religious:

    Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s personal proposal for a policy to resolve the Yasukuni Issue, to be released on 8 August, has been revealed. The chief recommendation is that the Yasukuni Shrine voluntarily dissolve its religious corporation and make the transition to a special corporation administered by the state. Since it would become then become a non-religious national memorial facility, it would actually drop “shrine” from its name. Without infringing on the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, [the move would] create an environment in which it would be easy for the emperor and prime minister to pay their respects. The goal is also to open a path toward the separate enshrinement of Class A war criminals.

    Of course, Aso isn’t a leading candidate for prime minister in next month’s election. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe made a discreet visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine on April 15, sources said, but the leading contender for prime minister again waffled around the potential election issue.

    They said he arrived at the shrine dressed in a morning coat. He did not use his official car, but signed his name as “Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe” in the shrine’s guest book.

    He used his own money for the offering to the shrine.

    Abe, a hawkish politician who has supported Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, said Friday that a trip made in such a manner would not be considered an official visit.

    “I pray (at the shrine) for the souls of the war dead who fought and died for the country, and to show my respect,” Abe told reporters. “My feelings remain unchanged.”

    When asked if he would visit the shrine if he became prime minister, Abe said, “I’d like to keep my feelings just as the way they are.”

    As an attempt at euphemism, I think that last part kind of backfires. What gets the Koreas and the PRC exercised is, after all, the sense that those running Tokyo do not really see Japan’s wartime aggression as wrong. That Prime Minister Koizumi visits the shrine in an official capacity adds extra sting, I don’t doubt, but it’s exactly the “real feelings” of politicians that are the chief subject of worry.

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