On the other hand, comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Abe and members of his Cabinet have contributed to tense relations in the region. Issues include the so-called "comfort women" who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers in the World War II era, Japanese history textbooks that critics claim whitewash Japanese atrocities, and visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan's war dead including Class A war criminals. Since 2013 Abe seems generally to have avoided language and actions that could upset regional relations and held cordial summits with the leaders of South Korea and China. In late 2015, Seoul and Tokyo reached an agreement on how to resolve the "comfort women" issue, but questions about implementation and doubts about the agreement's durability remain.
The issue of the so-called comfort women has gained visibility in the United States, due in part to Korean American activist groups. These groups have pressed successfully for the erection of monuments commemorating the victims, passage of a resolution on the issue by the New York State Senate, and the naming of a city street in the New York City borough of Queens in honor of the victims. In September 2015, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to erect a memorial to the comfort women, spurring the Japanese government to call the decision "extremely regrettable" and "incompatible with the Japanese government's view of and approach to the issue."
In December 2013, Prime Minister Abe paid a highly publicized visit to Yasukuni Shrine, his first since becoming prime minister. Response to the visit, which had been discouraged in private by U.S. officials, was uniformly negative outside of Japan. Unusually, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo directly criticized the move, releasing a statement that said, "The United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors."24 Since then, sizeable numbers of LDP lawmakers, including a number of Cabinet ministers, have periodically visited the Shrine on ceremonial days, including the sensitive date of August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japanese politicians say that they go to Yasukuni to pay respects to the nation's war dead, as any national leaders would do. Some politicians and observers have suggested that the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, which houses the remains of unidentified Japanese killed in World War II, could serve as an alternative place to honor Japan's war dead. In October 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid their respects at Chidorigafuchi. Abe has periodically visited ceremonial events and paid respects at Chidorigafuchi throughout his term, most recently in May 2016.
S.Res. 247 (Isakson). Commemorates and honors the actions of President Harry S. Truman and the crews of the Enola Gay and Bockscar in using the atomic bomb to bring World War II to an end. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations on August 5, 2015.
The full quote from the Japanese translation is "The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective." The Korean translation reads "The issue of 'comfort women' was a matter which, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. In this regard, the Government of Japan painfully acknowledges its responsibility." Kishida's statement appears significant because some Japanese conservatives have said that the Imperial Japanese military did not directly recruit the comfort women and have used this argument to downplay or deny the military's role in administering the comfort women system. 2b1af7f3a8