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Christian leaders protest Japan prime minister’s visit to war shrine

Christian leaders are protesting against a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates the country’s 2.6 million war dead, including a number of criminals. Such high profile visits at this time of the year are seen by China and Korea as supporting his country’s aggression before and during the Second World War.

The Rev. Toshimasa Yamamoto, general secretary of the National Christian Council in Japan said on 16 August: "We will stage a protest against the visit in front of the prime minister’s official residence."

"We firmly protest the prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and strongly appeal that no future prime ministers will visit the shrine," said the Rev. Seiji Suga, chairperson of the Christian council’s Yasukuni Shrine Issue Committee, in a statement issued immediately after the visit. "We oppose the visit because it is against the principle of the separation of religion and state."

Koizumi said he made the visit in his personal capacity, denied he was a supporter of militarism, and brushed aside criticism, stating: "Even if I avoided 15 August, my shrine visit would still draw criticism and protest. It doesn’t matter when I go there," he told journalists. "As such, I think today is an appropriate day."

Suga noted: "The visit on 15 August particularly encourages nationalism and militarism." It was on 15 August 1945 that Japan surrendered, shortly after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Christian leader added: "We are concerned that the visit will seriously damage trust and ties with foreign countries."

Koizumi said: "I don’t think Japan’s diplomatic relations with Asian countries will improve if I comply with demands from China and South Korea."

But a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party, Marutei Tsurunen, who left North Karelia in Finland, 40 years ago as a Lutheran lay missionary and describes himself as a Christian politician, disagrees with the visit.

The visit to the shrine should not have taken place, Tsurunen said, though opposition from China was not an appropriate reason to oppose Koizumi’s action.

"The Yasukuni Shrine very much relates to China," Tsurunen said before Koizumi made the visit in an interview with the Japan Today Web site. "I’m a little afraid of China because it wants to control the region. The prime minister should not go to Yasukuni now – but not because of China’s protests. We must find a good solution."

(c) Ecumenical News International