Monday, May 30, 2005

Junichiro Koizumi visits tomb for unkown soldiers

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose visits
to a Shinto shrine for war dead have sparked a bitter
row with China, joined in a tribute at Japan's tomb of
the unknown soldiers on Monday.

As heavy rain fell, Koizumi stood in silence with
Japanese politicians and foreign diplomats as the ashes
of 300 soldiers were added to those symbolising some
350,000 Japanese soldiers who died in World War II.

Chidorigafuchi, an austere, non-denominational memorial
near the Imperial Palace, honor's Japan's unidentified
war dead whose remains are symbolically placed in a
gold-plated urn inside a wooden coffin housed in a
hexagonal pavilion.

It stands in sharp contrast to the nearby Yasukuni
Shinto shrine, once a symbol of wartime nationalism and
now a site where war criminals convicted by a 1948
Allied tribunal are honored with Japan's 2.5 million war

Koizumi has visited Yasukuni each year since taking
office in 2001 and last went there in January 2004.

Some Japanese have suggested prime ministers could honor
war dead without angering China and other Asian
neighbors that suffered under Japan's wartime occupation
by paying their respects at Chidorigafuchi rather than
at Yasukuni.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sat with
Princess Takamado during a memorial service at
Chidorigafuchi National Tomb for Dead Soldiers in Tokyo

"On the occasion of this ceremony, I think deeply of the
war dead who became the foundation for peace and
prosperity of our country of today, and express my
condolences," Health Minister Hidehisa Otsuji said in an
address at Monday's ceremony.

"In the meantime, I pledge to make efforts to pass on to
the next generation many lessons learned from the war in
order to ensure eternal peace."

Koizumi, a member of the royal family and foreign
diplomats each placed a chrysanthemum on a table set
before the memorial's coffin to music from a band of
Imperial Palace guards.

The latest remains came mainly from Southeast Asia and
Pacific islands including Iwo Jima, where U.S. forces
defeated the Japanese in 1945 in a fierce battle that
helped turn the tide of World War II.

Ceremonies are performed at Chidorigafuchi each May and
the prime minister sometimes attends with other cabinet
ministers -- without prompting complaints from other
Asian countries.

Yasukuni has long been the focus of controversy, in part
because Shinto priests in 1978 added 14 "Class A" war
criminals -- leaders including wartime prime minister
Hideki Tojo -- to the lists of those worshipped as
deities at the shrine.

No remains are interred at the shrine.

Sixty years after Japan's defeat in World War II,
ordinary Japanese as well as politicians remain divided
about official visits to Yasukuni as well as how to view
the nation's past.

"The ... prime minister should be able to pay his
respects to the war dead (at Yasukuni)," said Toshiko
Yasuda, a 54-year-old housewife whose uncle is believed
to have died on Iwo Jima.

"The prime minister has apologized for the past
mistakes. That is necessary. Japan has done bad things
in the past, but what we have to do is think about what
to do in the future," added Yasuda, who attended
Monday's ceremony.

An official of a veterans group, said he was strongly
opposed to Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni.

"I want the government to build a national cemetery. I
want a facility where people of various religions and
beliefs can pay their respects freely," said the
68-year-old man, who declined to give his name.

Nearly three out of every five Japanese who responded to
a poll published by Kyodo news agency on Saturday said
they believed Koizumi should not visit Yasukuni this

Koizumi has repeatedly said he goes there to pay his
respects to the dead and to vow that Japan would never
again wage war. He has not yet said when he will visit
the shrine again.

end of quotes (agencies)

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