JAPANESE politicians and other public figures are usually cast from the same mould of conformity and predictability. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, however, appears to be very different with his flowing hair and admiration for Elvis Presley. Yet this week he showed that he, too, is a conformist by visiting the Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo to pray for Japan's war dead, among whom are fourteen Class-A war criminals who were secretly enshrined there in 1978. His action has provoked widespread protests in Asian countries which suffered from Japanese cruel militarism in the past. A statement from the Chinese government said that Mr Koisumi had “not only lost the trust of the international community but also the trust of the Japanese people and has harmed Japan's image and interests.” The truth is more probably that many Japanese will approve of the prime minister's visit toYasakuni Shrine where the names of 2'446'532 dead are listed in its Book of Souls. The rights and wrongs of this controversial matter are difficult for outsiders to judge but it is unfortunate that the museum attached to the Shrine blatantly presents Japan as the victim of 20th century wars rather than the oppressor, as some Japanese school text books still do. Mr Koizumi leaves the premiership in September and he may have thought that by undertaking this week's visit to Yasakuni it would be easier for his successor to make the break with the past which many of Japan's neighbours hope for.


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