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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Press divided by Koizumi's shrine visit
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi led into Yasukuni Shrine by a priest
Koizumi tried to lessen criticism by changing the date of his visit
By Charles Scanlon in Tokyo

The Japanese papers are divided in their reaction to the prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni war shrine yesterday.

They all carry front page pictures of Mr Koizumi arriving at the shrine to pay his respects to the war dead.

There's also extensive coverage of the angry reaction in other Asian countries.

Some have pictures of an extraordinary protest ceremony in South Korea. Twenty members of a martial arts club lined up to amputate their fingers with miniature guillotines - to express their anger at Mr Koizumi's move.

No convincing explanation

South Korean men cut off their fingertips in Seoul
South Korean men cut off their fingertips in protest
"Hardship lies in the future," says an editorial in the Manichi Shimbun, which warns of damage to relations with neighbouring countries - particularly China and South Korea, which suffered most from Japanese oppression.

The paper says there was no convincing explanation why Mr Koizumi went to a shrine that honours class-A war criminals - and was the spiritual home of pre-war militarism.

It says the affair cannot possibly help the national interest.

Remorse in doubt

The liberal Asahi Shimbun is equally critical.

It says Mr Koizumi avoided going to the shrine on the anniversary of the war's end - that is Wednesday - to avoid fatally damaging relations with China and South Korea.

But it says his decision was anything but well considered.

"If the premier really feels remorse about the war", says the paper, "then he should have avoided going to the shrine altogether".

New memorial

But the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun describes Mr Koizumi's decision as a wise one.

Yasukuni Shrine
Yasukuni Shrine honours soldiers and war criminals
"The change of date was an appropriate political decision," it says, "because otherwise he could have hurt peace and security in Asia - and damaged economic relations with Japan's neighbours."

The paper suggests a new national memorial to the war dead should be built with no religious affiliation - so the controversy can be avoided on future anniversaries.

Explanation needed

The financial daily theNIkkei Shimbun says the government should do more to explain its position to Asian countries.

Mr Koizumi, it says, went to the shrine to pledge peace in the future.

But he should have avoided making the visit such a big political issue.

And the paper points out that nationalists were also disappointed - because he did not go on the anniversary as he had promised.

Credibility damaged

"Diminishing Koizumi effect" headlines the Japan Times the English language daily.

It says the compromise will harm the prime minister's image as a colourful leader who always keeps his word.

"He stressed too much beforehand that he would definitely visit on August the 15th."

The paper says he is now in danger of losing public trust.

Japan's war shrine
Should Koizumi have visited?
See also:

13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Japan PM's shrine visit
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Koizumi visits war shrine
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi's balancing act
13 Aug 01 | Media reports
Japanese premier's shrine statement
30 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pressure over Japan PM's shrine visit
10 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger deepens in history book row
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial war shrine
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
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