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Amid heat and COVID-19, Japanese visit Yasukuni on WW2 anniversary

TOKYO (Reuters) - Thousands of men and women of all ages braved scorching heat amid the COVID-19 pandemic to pay their respects at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Saturday, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender ending World War Two.

A visitor places an iced beverage on his head to cool down during a visit to Yasukuni Shrine on the 75th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine for war dead, which also honours some convicted war criminals, but avoided a personal visit that would anger China and South Korea.

Below are some comments from people visiting the shrine on Saturday.

NOBUKO WATANABE, 51, CREMATORIUM WORKER

Watanabe said she “completely understands” why Koreans would be angry at Japan over the visits but said it was a matter of perception.

“When people talk to each other one-on-one ... we are able to communicate and open our hearts to each other. We can improve relations between the two countries (Japan and South Korea) if relations between individuals improve.”

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MOTOAKI TAMURA, 31, IT ENGINEER

“I felt I needed to come here as a Japanese person to pay respect to the Japanese who died during the war,” said Tamura, who said his great-great-grandmother had died after contracting a disease during the war after she worked as a nurse in the Philippines.

AYAKA SOMA, 27, FREELANCE RESEARCHER

“Let’s not talk about the past, let’s look at the future. I hope that Japan and South Korea can come closer together. We have never experienced the war and we want to tell other young people to come pray here.”

YOSHINORI IWAMI, 54, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER

“I came here on behalf of my mother’s two older brothers who died at war on the Solomon Islands. It’s an opportunity for me to find myself and reconnect with the roots of my family. I came here to pay my respects as a Japanese. This is not about whether you’re right wing or left wing.”

“I don’t understand why South Koreans are criticising the Japanese for paying respects to the war dead. We are purely paying respects to our war dead, like every other country around the world.”

Iwami said he arrived at the shrine especially early on Saturday to beat the crowds and was surprised at the large turnout.

MEGUMI TANIGUCHI, 59, CONSTRUCTION CONSULTANT

“Even after the war, the emperor came here and the early prime ministers were here too. This issue has been politicised since the 1960s and the 70s. They’re complaining for their own domestic political reasons.”

“I want our prime minister to come here a lot and I would like the emperor, as the embodiment of Japan, to come here at least once every five years.”

Reporting by Ju-min Park and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by William Mallard

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