Professors, politicians calls Shinzo Abe's decision 'regrettable' and 'unbelievable'
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday prompted Japan's own politicians, including one of Abe's political allies, to express their concerns about Japan's future path and its relations with Asian neighbors.
Critics included Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the New Komeito Party, which is part of the ruling coalition led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. Yamaguchi said his party had urged Abe to avoid visiting the shrine, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals after World War II.
The visit "will make Japan's relations with China and South Korea tougher", Yamaguchi said. He said the move was "regrettable".
Yamaguchi said Abe will have to face the impact his visit had on Japan's foreign relations alone. He added that the prime minister clearly understood the ramifications of his visit.
Katsumasa Suzuki, secretary-general of Japan's People's Life Party, called Abe's move "unbelievable".
Social Democratic Party Secretary-General Mataichi Seiji said Abe initially vowed to follow an active pacifist road, but has instead engaged in active militarism.
Takehiko Yamamoto, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Waseda University, told AFP the visit was "an act of folly" that will worsen a bad situation.
"It is perfectly possible the visit will fuel worries in Washington over a possible rise of militarism and a shift to the right in Japan," he said.
On Thursday, several Japanese political experts told Reuters that Abe likely calculated that his relatively high public approval could weather the criticism over his Yasukuni Shrine visit. They said Abe's move will also shore up support in his conservative base.
With ties between Beijing and Tokyo stagnating, Abe may also have felt the visit would not have made matters worse, according to Reuters. But the United States, a close Japanese ally that has made it clear it does not favor Abe's historical revisionism, likely will not be pleased, the report said.
"He probably thinks that since things are not working well, the visit won't create further damage. I think he's wrong," said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "He probably thinks that it's OK, that's he's relatively popular and it's a matter of conviction."
Suspicions about visit
Abe's public approval ratings slipped from around 60 percent to below 50 percent in recent polls after his ruling bloc forced a law through parliament tightening penalties for leaking state secrets. Critics said the move smacked of Japan's wartime regime of secrecy.
Japan's "Article 9 Association", a group of scholars struggling to protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution from being revised by the Abe administration, also slammed the visit as "a betrayal of Japan nationals".
"The visit is an atrocity that cannot be forgiven," the group said.
Article 9, seen as the core to the postwar Peace Constitution, outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving Japan. It also stipulates that armed forces will not be maintained in Japan to settle such disputes.
Yoshikatsu Ueda, 72, who is the secretary-general of an association of bereaved families of Japan's war dead, said the visit was inappropriate.
"Individuals have the right to freedom of religion and thought, but the prime minister of a country with a constitution that promises lasting peace based on reflections from war should not visit the shrine," Ueda was quoted by Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun as saying.
"I can't help but be suspicious that the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine at this time ... is an indication of his intention to overturn the government's constitutional interpretation that bans the right to collective self-defense," Ueda said.
In the first year of his second term as prime minister, Abe has made controversial remarks and moves to deny or revise Japan's war crimes.
In an address in New York on Sept 26, Abe further displayed his hawkish stance.
"So call me, if you want, a right-wing militarist," said Abe.