Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a written message in April to an annual memorial ceremony honoring Class-A and other war criminals, hailing those executed by the Allied powers as "the foundation of their nation," The Asahi Shimbun has learned.
In the message sent as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Abe said, "(the war criminals) staked their souls to become the foundation of their nation."
The ceremony held in April was before a memorial statue that describes the war crime tribunals conducted by the Allied powers as "retaliatory" and calls all Japanese war criminals executed as "Showa Era (1926-1989) martyrs."
Ceremony organizers said a request for the written message was made through the offices of a local Diet member. The only other example of a former prime minister sending a written message was Yoshiro Mori, who sent one under his post as Lower House member after he stepped down as prime minister in 2001.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was also asked to submit a message in writing this year, but he declined.
In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, an official at Abe's office said, "We have no intention of responding."
An official in the LDP president's office said, "The party is not involved in the matter."
The ceremony was held at the Okunoin of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism in Wakayama Prefecture. The event is sponsored annually by several groups, including one made up of retired military officers as well as Kinki Kaikokai, a branch in the Kansai region made up of graduates of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and the National Defense Academy.
The event is held before a memorial statue that describes the punishment of war criminals by the Allied powers as "a harsh and retaliatory trial never before seen in the world." The statue was built in 1994 with the objective of restoring the honor of the war criminals as well as memorializing them.
The statue contains the names of about 1,180 war criminals who were either executed or who died of illness or committed suicide in detention camps. The 14 Class-A war criminals memorialized at Yasukuni Shrine, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister when Japan entered into war with the United States, are among those whose names are on the statue.
According to those who organized the event, this year's ceremony was held on April 29, with about 220 people in attendance, including bereaved family members, graduates of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and those connected to the Self-Defense Forces.
Archbishop Yukei Matsunaga, chief abbot of Kongobuji temple, which serves as the headquarters of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, chanted a Buddhist sutra.
Diet members representing the area were invited to attend, and one who did was Hirofumi Kado, an LDP Lower House member.
The emcee read Abe's message, which said, "I would like to sincerely express my feelings of remembrance to the spirit of the Showa Era martyrs who staked their souls to become the foundation of their nation so that Japan could achieve the peace and prosperity of today."
The message went on to say, "I pledge to continue to pray for eternal peace as well as to carve out a future in which mankind can live in harmony."
According to those who organized the event as well as relevant documents, the idea for erecting the statue came from a former Imperial Japanese Army lieutenant after he returned to Japan. He was cleared of war crimes charges, although he was initially detained as a war criminal in a camp in the Philippines after the end of World War II.
The man felt there were many cases of individuals who were wrongly executed. The statue was built after donations were collected from former military officers and bereaved family members of those who were executed.
Koyasan was selected as the site of the statue because the man was a follower of the Shingon sect.
The ceremony held in 1994 to mark the completion of the statue was attended by Toshiyasu Ono, who was then head priest of Yasukuni. According to Yasukuni officials, in subsequent years, the head priest has not attended the ceremony at Koyasan, but has only sent a telegram.
This is not the first time Abe has responded to organizers of the annual event. He sent written messages in 2004 and 2013 under his posts of LDP secretary-general and president, respectively.
In the message sent in 2013, Abe wrote, "We bear the obligation of honoring the spirit of the war dead as well as extending our thoughts to their feelings at becoming the foundation of their nation."
He went on to write, "I want to establish the existence of a new Japan that would not be an embarrassment to the spirit of the war dead."
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