On Monday, October 17, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made his annual visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead and political leaders of particularly the WWII period. Almost immediately following his action, China criticized the move in an abruptly held press conference and postponed a visit by Japan's foreign minister. South Korea joined the criticism and reiterated its opposition to the Yasukuni visits.
In my previous post on the Japan election of September 11, I mentioned that the Yasukuni visits were one area that Koizumi could address easily in improving political engagements with China and South Korea. Although Koizumi insists his visits are a private action and out of simple respect and an aspiration for regional peace, China and South Korea could care less about how Koizumi prays--they just don't want it done at Yasukuni.
With cameras anxiously covering the visits, what Koizumi states as a private matter is never so private. As a result, my opinion is Koizumi is really "stuck on stupid" in regards to this issue. There are far more critical issues to resolve with Japan's NEA neighbors than to let shrine visits disrupt any diplomatic progress. Koizumi should truly make his prayers private by finding an alternative to the Yasukuni visits, although I don't think building a whole new facility is necessary. Why not pray for peace by holding an official event commemorating Japan's Self-Defense Force and its non-offensive mission? This would be much more forward looking and in speech the Prime Minister could pay respects to the war dead of past conflicts.
Although China in particular has its own "skeletons in the closet" to deal with--past domestic abuses in regards to human rights--the best way to discuss these issues is through dialogue and the Yasukuni issue is impeding such dialogue unnecessarily.