The recent visit by Japan's Foreign Minister to Australia generated some embarrassing publicity about his family company's wartime 'employment' of Australian POWs. Taro Aso now plans to pay his respects at the shrine commemorating Allied prisoners who died in labour camps within Japan. It's certainly a change in gear from his visits to the infamous Yasukuni shrine, whose relics include an engine from the Thai-Burma railroad, the construction of which cost the lives of 2,815 Australians.
A cynic might say that Aso - one of the frontrunners for the Prime Minister's job when Koizumi vacates it this year - is trying to distance himself from a career-full of gratuitous comments on Japan's expansionist past. Perhaps the time spent hobnobbing with Alexander Downer, whose father was interned at Changi, has reminded Aso that China and South Korea aren't the only countries Japan has historical issues with. And perhaps the rise of Chinese power has something to do with Japan's Foreign Minister visiting a temple dedicated to the victims rather than the agents of Japanese imperialism, with the ambassadors of Tokyo's allies invited to observe the change of heart. There's no sign that Aso Cement will join the list of German and Japanese companies - notably Siemens and Mitsubishi - fighting lawsuits over their use of slave labour during World War Two.
At least the poor souls whose ashes rest within the Juganji Temple are getting their smidgen of honour. The final tragedy of World War Two was how the memory of so many victims was buried in the new politics of the Cold War, a problem compounded by countries' selectivity in honouring their wartime dead. So let's not begrudge this moment of recognition for men who perished toiling for a worthless cause, forgotten then and forgotten now.