(August 15)

Rain fails to dampen turnout at Yasukuni

Despite intermittent rain, thousands of war veterans and relatives of Japan's war dead visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on Friday, the 52nd anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II, to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in war.

"Many of my friends were killed. So I come here every year," said 77-year-old Minoru Nakamura, of Itabashi Ward, Tokyo. "We fought fierce battles together on the Bataan Peninsula (in the Philippines)."

Touching his left leg, he recalled the bullet that pierced his knee and the malaria that plagued every member of his unit.

Yasukuni Shrine is the resting place for more than 2.466 million Japanese soldiers who died for their country in wars that date back to 1869, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other Class-A war criminals, who were convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and hanged. Yasukuni also enshrines Korean and Taiwanese soldiers who died in battle.

The shrine served as the state's symbol to boost national morale during the war in the 1930s and 1940s, and in the postwar decades as a spiritual pillar for relatives of the war dead and conservative nationalists seeking a stronger state.

"I just hope that war, among other things, will never be repeated. I came here to spiritually compensate for the suffering of my friends who died," said Sakae Wada, 80, of Saitama Prefecture. Wada worked as a military engineer in Manchuria, which was the Japanese military's puppet state of Manchukuo in northeastern China.

Fumiko Ito, 70, another Saitama resident, came to pay tribute to her husband, who was killed when his submarine was sunk off Saipan in July 1945, just one month before Japan's surrender. "More than 50 years have passed, but my grief has not changed," she said tearfully.

At the same time, veterans who were interviewed complained about recent education and mass media reports, which they say describe Japan as the only evil party in the war.

"Many (newspaper) articles were written by authors worrying about criticism of other countries. They often one-sidedly focus on the bad aspects of Japan," said a 76-year-old man living in Tokyo, who declined to be named.

As well as the elderly survivors of the war, young people were at the shrine, although their numbers were few.

"I come here every year. I feel it is my duty. We have a duty to hand down something related to the war to the next generations," said an 18-year-old from Tokyo's Ota Ward, who called himself only Suzuki. Commenting on recent heated debate over modern Japan's wars and the question of education, Suzuki said he believes public discussions are leaning toward the left and many have a masochistic view of Japan. He said debate should be cool and objective.

In a rally near JR Suidobashi Station in Tokyo, about 240 people protested the official visits by some Cabinet ministers to Yasukuni Shrine, calling for a separation of religion and politics.

The rally at Zensuido Hall was sponsored by the National Liaison Council for Peace Associations for the Bereaved Families of the War Dead.

Participants urged the government to abide by Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits Japan from resorting to the threat or use of force as a means of resolving international conflicts.

"Eleven Cabinet members are said to have visited Yasukuni today or before today. And it's worth a protest, isn't it?" asked Shigenori Nishikawa, head of the group, which includes 15 peace associations representing next of kin of war dead across the country. "We must keep an eye on any move that may lead us to war," said Nishikawa, adding that he, along with his friends, feels great grief for the more than 20 million people throughout Asia who are believed to have lost their lives to "the war of aggression" waged by the Imperial Japanese forces.

Citing such recent moves as a revision of the special land lease law for the U.S. forces in Okinawa, the planned renewal of the Japan-U.S. bilateral defense guidelines and increasing demands from conservative lawmakers for the Constitution to be revised, Nishikawa said the spirit of the war-renouncing document is in greater peril than ever.

Koreans, including members of the Headquarters of the People's Movement to Clarify and Settle Problems of Past Korea-Japan Relations, also attended the rally, demanding a sincere apology and compensation from the government for Japan's wartime behavior.

"Those who stomp on others' feet will never know how those who have been trodden upon feel," said Shozo Tominaga, 83, a convicted Class B-C war criminal and president of a 500-strong liaison society for former war criminals who returned from China.

Recalling his days in China from 1941 until the end of war as a company commander in the Imperial army, Tominaga said he chopped off the heads of POWs and said the war turned him into a beast. Pointing to a recent resurgence of nationalism, as seen in the emergence of a revisionist view of Japan's modern history, Tominaga said those who try to cover up such issues as women who were forced into sexual slavery for Imperial forces and the Nanjing Massacre will never be able to feel the pain inflicted on the sufferers.

Inside a makeshift tent set up within the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine, more than 1,500 people took part in a patriotic event calling for more praise for the war dead and official visits by the prime minister to the shrine every Aug. 15.

The last official visit to the shrine by the nation's leader was in 1985, by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

The event was sponsored by two groups -- Nippon Kaigi and Eirei ni Kotaeru Kai -- and started by the singing of the de facto national anthem "Kimigayo" and listening to a recording of the late Emperor Showa's announcement declaring Japan's surrender 52 years ago.

Among the guest speakers was Hiroo Onoda, who continued to fight on alone on a small island in the Philippines for more than 30 years after the war had ended, without knowing of Japan's defeat.

"At the time of the war, we were all dedicating our lives to the state of Japan, believing we would all be enshrined and honored at Yasukuni Shrine as gods after our deaths.

"But now Japan has thrown away its pride as a nation, as it has given up on the official visits by the nation's leader (to the shrine)," Onoda said.

Meanwhile, at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, where the remains of unidentified Japanese soldiers are kept, the Social Democratic Party held a commemorative service for all the victims of the war, not just the Japanese.

In her speech, SDP leader Takako Doi said Japan should seriously remember that it invaded its neighboring countries and victimized a large number of people in Asia.

"We need to make utmost efforts to settle the problems with those Asian people who suffered because of Japan's acts," she said.

Doi added that she is terrified by recent moves by some conservative groups that refuse to own up to Japan's wartime responsibiliy and that want descriptions in school textbooks on "comfort women" deleted.

Hashimoto expresses remorse on anniversary of war's end

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto reiterated "deep remorse" Friday for Japan's wartime acts and voiced his condolences to the victims, particularly those elsewhere in Asia, on the 52nd anniversary of Japan's surrender to the Allies.

Japan has a responsibility to "create world peace and to not repeat the tragedy of war," he said.

Speaking at a government-sponsored annual ceremony at Nippon Budokan Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, to mourn the war dead, Hashimoto said, "The last war caused tremendous pain and sorrow not only to our country but also to people in many countries, particularly those in neighboring parts of Asia.

"Accepting this fact humbly, I would like to express my profound mourning and deep regret," he said.

The Emperor and Empress, about 6,400 relatives of the war dead and 1,000 people from the government and Diet attended the ceremony. They included Cabinet ministers, Lower House Speaker Soichiro Ito, Upper House President Juro Saito and representatives of political parties and prefectural governments.

Hashimoto said Japan must always remind itself that its prosperity was built on the sacrifices of many lives. "It is our important obligation to look back at the past with sincerity now that we have peace and prosperity, to pass on to the younger generation knowledge of the sacrifices of the war dead and build a permanent peace, in order to avoid a recurrence of the disaster of a terrible war," Hashimoto said.

"As a nation that plays an important role in international society, we pledge here that we will make utmost efforts to realize world peace and create a better society where people can live peacefully," he said.

This year, Hashimoto did not visit Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead. His visit to the shrine in July 1996 angered China. Instead, before attending the Budokan ceremony, he visited Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, where the remains of about 340,000 unknown Japanese soldiers are interred. One person there shouted to him, "Why don't you go to Yasukuni?"

Leaders of the Social Democratic Party go to the cemetery on Aug. 15 every year to pray for the souls of those who were killed in the war and for peace.

Hashimoto made his speech at the Budokan just before noon, when he and nearly 7,000 participants at the ceremony offered a minute of silent prayer for the 3.1 million Japanese who died in the war, which also claimed the lives of some 20 million people in other parts of Asia as well.

After the prayer, the Emperor gave a brief speech, voicing hopes for world peace and Japan's prosperity. "Hoping that the ravages of war will never be repeated, I offer my heartfelt condolences to those who died on the battlefield and fell victim to the war, and pray for world peace and our country's further development," he said. There was a record turnout of 531 relatives of the war dead aged 80 or older.

The oldest participant was Atsuko Morita, 95, of Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, who lost her husband in fighting in present-day North Korea. The youngest was Motohiro Kittsui, 17, of Kahoku, eastern Kochi Prefecture. His grandfather died in combat in the Philippines.

Seven ministers visit Yasukuni on anniversary

Seven Cabinet ministers went to Yasukuni Shrine on Friday morning to pay homage to Japan's war dead. One more Cabinet member was expected to visit the shrine later the same day and four other Cabinet ministers visited the shrine before Friday.

Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi was the first minister to visit the shrine Friday when he showed up at 8 a.m. "Today's peace is based on the precious sacrifice of people who dedicated their lives to the nation," Koizumi said. "As a state minister and health and welfare minister, I paid tribute with respect."

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama, Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda and Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka did not visit the shrine to avoid criticism from Japan's Asian neighbors.

The other ministers who went to the shrine are: Kosuke Ito, director general of the National Land Agency, International Trade and Industry Minister Shinji Sato, Transport Minister Makoto Koga, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Hisao Horinouchi, Labor Minister Yutaka Okano and Jitsuo Inagaki, director general of the Hokkaido Development Agency and Okinawa Development Agency.

Kabun Muto, director general of the Management and Coordination Agency, was also expected to visit the shrine Friday.

Hashimoto's visit to the shrine in July 1996 angered China, which has repeatedly denounced visits by Cabinet members to Yasukuni as signs of a resurgence of Japanese militarism. Those enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine as deities include executed war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.

Suspected rightist kills self at MPD

A middle-aged man fired three bullets at the entrance of the Metropolitan Police Department's headquarters Friday morning, shouted praise for the Emperor and then fatally shot himself in the head, MPD officials said.

"Please work hard for the Emperor," the man was quoted as saying before firing the fatal shot with a 38-caliber revolver. Such comments are characteristic of ultra-nationalists.

Officials suspect the man planned the bizarre attack and suicide Friday to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II.

The man, described as being between 40 and 60 years old, fired the shots at 10:40 a.m., fell to the pavement at the entrance and died at the scene, the officials said.

As the shots rang out, a number of investigators rushed out of the building.

The man had short-cropped hair and wore a cap with a camouflage pattern. He also wore a red jersey and blue jeans, the officials said. Glass sections of the entrance area had been damaged by gunfire.

Court drops territorial waters case

MATSUE -- The Hamada branch of the Matsue District Court in Shimane Prefecture dismissed an indictment Friday against the captain of a South Korean fishing boat seized in June on charges of operating in Japan's territorial waters.

The boat was discovered fishing in waters off Hamada claimed under revisions to the Japanese Territorial Sea Law.

Presiding Judge Yasuhiro Hasegawa ruled that Japanese authorities cannot act against a South Korean fishing boat if it operates outside the 12-nautical mile exclusive fishing zone provided for under the Japan-South Korea fishery pact.

The judge ruled that bilateral or international treaties or agreements come before domestic laws, irrespective of the dates they took effect. He went on to say that the fishery zones set under the bilateral fishery pact are not affected even if new sea areas are later designated as Japanese territorial waters under revisions to domestic law.

It is quite unusual for a court to dismiss a prosecution action in a criminal case. The ruling is certain to have a great impact on bilateral fishery negotiations between Japan and South Korea, which are now experiencing problems, and make the Japanese government's position in the talks more difficult.

The Matsue District Public Prosecutor's Office had demanded a 1.2 million yen fine on skipper Kim Sung I of the 68-ton South Korean fishing boat Daedong No. 909.

The office immediately appealed to a higher court, asserting that it could not condone the district court decision because it erred in the interpretation of the Japanese-South Korea fishery pact and Japanese laws governing fishing operations by non-Japanese.

But the defense welcomed Friday's district court decision, saying that the dismissal of the suit is quite reasonable.

Under the revised Territorial Sea Law, Japan's 12 miles of waters no longer follow the outline of the coast. The outermost tips of each arc in the winding coastline have been joined with a single, curved boundary, thereby expanding the country's territorial waters.

Six boats have been seized on charges of operating in the expanded Japanese territorial waters but the authorities have taken legal action against only two of them. The other case was filed at the Hagi Summary Court in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Friday's ruling is the first to be made regarding the two cases.

The South Korean government has strongly protested the Japanese moves and its parliament adopted a resolution in late July calling for the return of crew members seized from the boats.

The revised Territorial Sea Law went into force in January this year after Japan ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Government sources did not hesitate to show their bewilderment at the local court decision and asserted that the government exercised its right as provided for under the U.N. convention and that the validity of the convention must be respected.

Municipalities lower land values

About 48 percent of 3,233 municipal governments, including Tokyo ward offices, lowered land and property value assessments this year, according to a report released Friday by the Home Affairs Ministry.

The values are reassessed every three years for the purpose of property taxes levied by the municipal government. The taxes are calculated by multiplying property values by a standard tax rate of 1.4 percent.

By prefecture, the municipalities of Kanagawa and Osaka made the biggest downward assessments. Chiba Prefecture came next with 96.3 percent of its municipalities lowering their assessments, followed by 96 percent of Shiga Prefecture municipalities, 91.3 percent in Saitama Prefecture and 89.1 percent in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Until the latest assessment, property values for tax purposes remained at relatively high levels despite steep falls in property values.

Although the Home Affairs Ministry said municipal governments assessed property values based on their own criteria, bigger reductions were made in large cities where land price falls became conspicuous after the collapse of the bubble economy.

LDP, Shinshinto to share candidate

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Shinshinto, the largest opposition party, decided Friday to jointly support an independent Upper House member as a candidate in October's Miyagi prefectural gubernatorial election.

The decision over the candidacy of Diet member Ichiro Ichikawa was reached at a meeting between Shinshinto chief Ichiro Ozawa and Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, a senior LDP lawmaker.

Ichikawa, who was elected to the Diet in 1995, will be competing with incumbent Gov. Shiro Asano, who has decided to run without support from any of the major parties, and other candidates.

Mitsuzuka serves as chief of the LDP's Miyagi chapter. Ozawa has just become Shinshinto's Miyagi chapter leader -- a post previously occupied by Lower House member Kazuo Aichi, who quit Shinshinto in July.

At the press conference, Ozawa said he would like to make the utmost efforts to support Ichikawa in cooperation with the LDP.

Mitsuzuka also said he hopes that this case will be a good model of various parties setting aside differences to jointly support a competent candidate.

Opposition rising beneath Olympics hoopla in Osaka

OSAKA -- Osaka may be Japan's choice for the 2008 Olympics, but as the realization sets in that the region is spending trillions of yen to compete internationally, doubts about the city's chances and concerns over who will have to pay are coming to the surface.

While civic and business leaders say the vast number of Osaka citizens support their city's bid, some oppose what they see as a waste of money on useless projects that benefit no one but construction companies.

Now that Osaka is officially the Japanese Olympic Committee candidate, organized resistance is growing. One group of nearly 30 local citizens, including members of two local watchdog groups, students, lawyers and journalists, gathered Wednesday night in south Osaka to formally announce their opposition.

"I was very sad when I heard that Osaka had beaten Yokohama for the bid," said Yoko Futaki, a city councilor from Takatsuki. "Who in the world are the Osaka Olympics for? There are still too many issues that need to be publicly debated before the people can be assured that the Olympics will not prove financially disastrous," she said.

During the two-hour meeting, a variety of opinions on the feasibility of Osaka's bid were exchanged. But virtually all those in attendance voiced their opposition to holding the Olympics.

The greatest concern among ordinary citizens is who would foot the bill for what could be a very expensive Olympics. For next year's Winter Games in Nagano, the prefecture will be responsible for nearly 235 billion yen of the cost, while the city's share is expected to reach nearly 120 billion yen. Such figures do not include construction costs for facilities or rail lines.

"How much of a burden would Osaka really have to pay for an Olympics that would be much larger than Nagano? No one really knows," said Tatsuya Kimura, a local lawyer who has written several articles questioning an Osaka Games.

Much of the money being spent for the Olympics is going to the redevelopment of Osaka Bay. City officials have long said that development of the area is not just for the Games but for what Mayor Takafumi Isomura calls a "sports paradise," a claim few of the attendees believed.

"It sounds more like a sports nightmare to me," Kimura said.

The construction of the 100,000-seat Olympic stadium on Maishima Island drew some of the heaviest criticism of those present. "Who would use this stadium after the Olympics? There are no professional sports teams in the area that have said they would move there, and there are not nearly enough events to fill the stadium on a regular basis," Kimura said.

Other local activists say they also plan to step up protest activities over the Olympics. Nobuyo Fujinaga, director of Citizen's Network in Osaka, an environmental activist group, said the first meeting of a group of scholars and others opposed to the Games will take place later this month.

"Osaka city is spending 1 trillion yen to redevelop the bay area for the Olympics," she said. "This money would be better used for facilities for the elderly and the handicapped. We don't need sports facilities."

Those opposed to the Olympics say they have been for some time. Yet, compared with Yokohama, where local activists organized effectively and quickly gained the support of several local politicians, Osaka's opposition groups appear to have been less active, despite their having known for five years that the city has wanted to go after the Games.

"It's true that Osaka activists opposed to the Olympics have dragged their feet. But it has been very difficult to get information, and the very activist groups have their own causes. I think, however, that you'll see a more concentrated effort from now on," Kimura said.

"It's a time for action," said Gensai Yasufuku, a representative from Shimin Ombudsman. "The time for sitting around and thinking about the problems of the Olympics is over. We need strong, clear action and a strong, clear voice of opposition."

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