Nearly 150 Japanese parliamentarians visited a controversial war shrine where many World War II war criminals are among the dead military and political figures honored, raising eyebrows and ire ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.
AFP reports 146 members of both houses of the Diet, or Japanese parliament, traveled as a group to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo as part of a three-day spring festival. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not expected to visit the shrine, but he did send a tree as a gift, leading to Chinese charges that the Japanese leader was offering a “slap in the face” of Obama.
The American president will travel to Tokyo on Wednesday for an official state visit.
Abe made a surprise visit to the shrine last December, infuriating China and other regional nations which suffered tremendously under Japanese occupation. That visit also drew a rare rebuke from the United States, which said it was “disappointed” in Japanese actions that would “exacerbate tensions” with neighboring countries.
In addition to the Yasukuni Shrine, an adjacent World War II museum portraying Japan as an Asian liberator and victim of the war has sparked outrage in nations where millions of people were killed and many more oppressed under Japanese rule.
The shrine and museum are points of nationalistic pride among conservative Japanese. Many Japanese also consider the site a place of sacred prayer and reflection.
“As a national lawmaker, it is only natural to offer prayers to the sacred spirits who sacrificed their lives for the country,” National Public Safety Commission director Keiji Furuya, a cabinet minister who accompanied the lawmakers on their recent shrine visit, told the Associated Press.
Some Japanese accused the United States of hypocrisy for criticizing visits to the shrine, pointing to the many American war crimes and atrocities committed during the war, such as the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of most major Japanese cities.
It is often said that history is written by the victors, and General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay, who commanded the US Army Air Force during World War II, once remarked that “if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.”
Still, the Japanese lawmakers’ visit to the shrine particularly angered China, which suffered horrific atrocities and many millions of deaths under Japanese occupation.
“There is a mountain of hard-iron evidence for the crimes committed by Japanese invaders during the Second World War,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying in Beijing. “Only by facing up to and deeply reflecting on the history of aggression can Japan possibly create a future and develop friendly and cooperative relations with the people of Asia.”