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Dozens of Japan lawmakers visit controversial war shrine

AFP  |  Tokyo 

Dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited a controversial war shrine today, in an annual pilgrimage that drew an angry response from Seoul which sees it as a painful reminder of Tokyo's warring past.

The group of about 85 politicians arrived at the leafy Yasukuni shrine in downtown Tokyo during a four-day autumn festival.

Led by priests, the dark-suited lawmakers entered the main shrine building to pray for Japan's war dead as they bowed at the threshold.

The visit comes a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - often criticised for what some see as a revisionist take on Japan's wartime record - sent an offering to the shrine, but avoided a visit.

Yasukuni honours millions of Japanese war dead, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.

The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including China and the two Koreas.

South Korea responded to Tuesday's visit with a statement expressing "deep concern and disappointment over the fact that (lawmakers) have once again sent offerings to and paid tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan's past war of aggression".

Seoul called on Japanese politicians to "demonstrate through action their humble self-reflection and sincere remorse for Japan's past wrongdoings".

China did not immediately comment, but it criticised Abe's offering yesterday.

Today, four Chinese coastguard ships entered Japan's territorial waters close to disputed islands that have been a thorn in the side of diplomatic relations for years.

Visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians routinely draw an angry reaction from Beijing and Seoul, and more controversial than the shrine is an accompanying museum that paints as a liberator of Asia and a victim of the war.

Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

"Every country pays respects to people who died for his or her country," Hidehisa Otsuji, who headed the group of lawmakers, told reporters today.

The site attracts many visitors who come to pay their respects to friends and relatives who died in military conflicts.

"I heard that my grandfather died in the battlefield so I came here to comfort his spirit," said Kazuya Ono, a 40-year-old Japanese businessman, who visited Yasukuni on today.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, October 18 2016. 14:28 IST