Revival of the Yasukuni issuesJapan’s never-ending nostalgia for its aggression-ridden imperialist past makes an alarming comeback at Yasukuni Shrine each year during July 13-16, the period designated for paying ancestral homage to the deceased during the Pacific War. Four members of the Shinzo Abe cabinet - including Minister of Justice Sadakazu Tanigaki, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yoshimasa Hayashi, Minister for Reconstruction Takumi Nemoto and Minister of Administrative Reform Tomomi Inada - dedicated their lanterns one after another to honoring the war dead at the shrine.
In addition, Japan’s right-wing politicians are expected to pay their respects or dedicate their lanterns soon - ahead of the July 21 Upper House elections. Their behavior, however, could refuel the simmering conflicts between Korea and Japan over the Dokdo islets and other thorny historical issues.
Yasukuni Shrine has been at the center of frictions as politicians’ visits have always been followed by provocative words and actions from the right-wing faction in Japan over territorial and historical issues. During the last ancestral homage period in April, three senior figures in the Abe cabinet - including Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso, the No. 2 man in the cabinet - created controversy after paying their respects at the shrine followed by harsh rhetoric by ultranationalists. That event clearly shows that the essence of Japanese politicians’ visits to the shrine lies in downplaying the militarist past of imperial Japan. That’s why no neighbor in the area regards their paying of respects or dedicating offerings at the shrine as being purely motivated.
If Japan has any intention of creating a constructive and future-oriented history together with countries in the region, it must first eliminate the suspicious connection between politicians and the shrine once and for all. The world’s eyes are on what Japanese politicians do on August 15, the day to commemorate the end of World War II. Whether Prime Minister Abe and his major cabinet members pay respect at the shrine again will mark a significant watershed in relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Japanese politicians must refrain from visiting the symbol of Japan’s belligerent past so that the glorification of the wrongdoings of Japan’s past generations, committed in the name of imperialism, does not become an obstacle to an otherwise brighter future.