TOKYO: A Chinese man suspected of starting a fire inside a Tokyo war shrine at the centre of rows with Japan’s Asian neighbours was arrested by police on Wednesday, reports said.
The man, 55, allegedly set fire to a pile of newspapers inside the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 2.5 million war dead but also enshrines top World War II criminals.
Jiji Press agency and public broadcaster NHK both reported the arrest and said the fire was quickly extinguished, with no reports of any damage or injuries.
The man was arrested on suspicion of trespassing, reports said. A spokesman for the shrine acknowledged the incident while avoiding further comment as “police are investigating”. A Tokyo police spokesman declined to confirm the report.
Bystanders reportedly said the man had been holding a banner with a message protesting the 1937 Nanjing massacre.
China says 300,000 people died in a six-week spree of killing, rape and destruction by the Japanese military that began in December 1937 after invading troops seized the city of Nanjing.
Some respected foreign academics estimate a lower number of victims, but mainstream scholarship does not question that a massacre took place.
However, it remains a source of bad blood between the Asian neighbours due to disagreement over the scale of the slaughter and periodic denials by Japanese arch-conservatives that the massacre even happened.
Despite rows over history and territorial disputes, relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been improving in recent years.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe travelled to China in October for first official visit by a Japanese premier since 2011.
But the Yasukuni shrine has been a regular source of tension between Japan and its regional neighbours.
Visits by senior Japanese politicians routinely draw angry reactions from China and South Korea, and Abe has avoided trips to the site in recent years.
In 2015, a South Korean man detonated a homemade pipe bomb in the toilets at the shrine, but no one was hurt in the blast.- AFP