TOKYO - Japanese reacted to their prime minister's visit Thursday to a controversial Tokyo war shrine with a mixture of support and bafflement, unsure how to weigh respect for the dead against the need to get along with neighbours.
While Beijing and Seoul lashed out at Shinzo Abe for glorifying Japan's past "militaristic aggression", the reaction at home was less clear-cut.
For China and South Korea, the leafy Yasukuni shrine is a brutal reminder of Tokyo's imperialist past and wartime aggression.
But for many ordinary Japanese, walking down Yasukini's stone paths and strolling through its beautifully sculpted stone gates is merely a normal way to worship ancestors who died fighting for their country.
Yasukuni was built in 1869 to honour those who gave their lives for Japan and contains the names of soldiers who have fallen in armed conflicts, including World War II.
Controversially, it also honours 14 men convicted of war crimes by a US-led tribunal after Japan's 1945 surrender, including General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who authorised the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"I think his (Abe's) visit there as prime minister was a mistake because of the problem of war criminals, even if he visited for the war dead, not for war criminals," 56-year-old doctor Kazuyoshi Shimamura told AFP in Tokyo's busy shopping district of Ginza.
"But I also think that China and South Korea will accuse Japan for the past war even 100 million years later," Shimamura said. "They've blamed Japan for more than half a century" despite repeated official apologies over wartime aggression, he said.
"I'm sympathetic to Prime Minister Abe's urge to visit there because my uncle also died on a battlefield in Burma (Myanmar) and is enshrined there," he continued.
"I've visited the shrine before, and my late grandmother used to go every year," he said, stressing there was no political element to the private visits.
His wife Masayo, 45, said: "I understand why the prime minister visited the shrine, but he shouldn't do things that are going to irritate other countries."
Office worker Hidekazu Iwata, 42, said the actions by Japan's neighbours in recent years made it seem right for Abe to go.
He said China's declaration in November of an Air Defence Identification Zone above the East China Sea, including disputed islands, was a case in point.
"Even if Japan gives consideration to the feelings of China and South Korea (by not visiting the shrine), they don't reward Japan but keep attacking us," he said.