Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday rejected demands from Asian neighbors that he stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine which honors 14 Class-A war criminals responsible for Japan's aggression against the nations before and during World War II.
"How to commemorate the war dead is a matter to be considered by Japan on its own," Koizumi told reporters at his office. "I will make a decision appropriately."
Earlier in the day, Koizumi said he is "always giving consideration," responding to a request filed by a group of war- bereaved families Saturday that the prime minister should try to get understanding from neighboring countries by showing " consideration" for them.
According to Kyodo News, Koizumi said later in the day he is just mindful of "offering my condolences to the war dead and pledging never to wage war again."
"I'm paying a visit not because someone told me to do so," he was quoted.
As for the cooling bilateral ties with China and South Korea, Koizumi said, "I am always saying friendly relations in a future- oriented manner between Japan and China, and between Japan and South Korea, are important."
Koizumi said he believes the Japanese public will accept his Yasukuni visits although opponents topped supporters in a weekend telephone poll by Nippon Television Network Corp.
Critics see the Tokyo-based Shinto shrine as symbolic of Japan's past aggression and militarism as it honors 14 notorious Class-A World War II criminals.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in a news conference the same day that he recognizes that public sentiment on Koizumi's shrine visit has begun to change amid "large external repercussions."
Koizumi has visited the shrine once every year since taking office in April 2001. Last month, Koizumi indicated a plan in a parliament meeting to again visit the shrine sometime this year.
The worsening bilateral ties with China have apparently caused the Japan War-Bereaved Association, or Nippon Izokukai, to make the unusual move of urging Koizumi to consider the criticisms of neighboring countries despite its long-standing demand that prime ministers regularly visit Yasukuni.