Saturday, April 27, 2002

Japan Today

I regularly check in on the Japan Today web site (at www.japantoday.com). My Japanese friends tell me it is similar to the USA Today in its “McNugget” approach to the news of Japan though I find it interesting nonetheless.

In checking the site earlier this week, an article entitled “Koizumi tries to calm Asia down over Yasukuni Shrine visit” caught my eye. In part because I remembered reading a similarly titled article last year and in part because I wondered if this social/cultural event would impact future business issues given the discussion of last week regarding Japan’s electronics companies “rushing” to invest in Chinese engineering and design facilities as a competitive move in spite of some fears of Japan being overshadowed by China economically within a decade or two.

To that end, I quickly found a string of articles beyond Japan Today covering the visit all of which point to the visit further straining Japan’s slowly evolving relationships with China and South Korea. While I’ve concluded that this incident doesn’t seem to be an immediate business concern, it appears to be a potential lightning rod and therefore should be eyed warily from a business perspective.

The Yasukuni Shrine is “by far Japan’s most controversial religious site because of its dedication to the 2.5 million soldiers killed in wars since the mid-1800s.” The visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was “intended as a prayer for peace, but it elicited swift and harsh criticism from both Beijing and Seoul” instead. Koizumi “may have hoped to avoid inflaming China and Korea, while at the same time solacing conservative groups within Japan.”

However, “China resolutely opposes visits by Japanese leaders, in whatever form and at whatever time to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class A war criminals” stated Beijing’s Foreign Ministry in one of “several condemnations.” And in South Korea, in a “rare joint action, the country’s governing and opposition parties condemned the visit.”

In Japan, the Prime Minister’s decision to visit the shrine on August 15 (the anniversary of Japan’s WWII surrender) is often seen as “something of a nationalist litmus test” and most Japanese right-wing politicians have used such a visit as a “symbolic gesture to express denial of wrongdoing during the war.” And while the visit’s “ritual is silent, its sinister implication is sufficiently loud to cause indignation among the millions of Chinese and Koreans who have had fathers and sons killed and mothers and daughters raped and killed by Japanese soldiers during the war.”

Koizumi, whose popularity amongst the Japanese has fallen from 90% to about 40% may have thought that by visiting this year in mid-April instead of August he could appease the local population and avoid an uproar ala last years’ similar situation with China and South Korea. However, what he found was that a political solution actually did little to appease any of the parties involved.

Again, while the tensions attributed to this visit are not immediately likely to result in any business ramifications, if nothing else, the visit goes to show just how fragile the relationships are between these neighbors who fought for so many years and thus should be carefully monitored beyond the headlines.

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