Three Cabinet ministers went to war-related Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instead made a ritual offering in an apparent effort to avoid more diplomatic friction with China and South Korea.
Yoshitaka Shindo, minister of internal affairs, Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Security Commission, and Tomomi Inada, minister in charge of administrative reform, went to the Tokyo shrine. All three are known as right-leaning politicians.
A proxy for Abe visited the Shinto shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead as well as convicted war criminals, to offer “tamagushi-ryo” money to pay for a sacred tree branch and for a Shinto priest to offer a prayer at the shrine.
Abe paid the money in his capacity as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, not as prime minister, according to his proxy, said close aide Koichi Hagiuda, whose title is special assistant to the LDP president.
Later in the day, Abe visited Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, a secular facility that houses the remains of more than 358,000 unidentified soldiers who died on overseas battlefields.
“Today is the day to . . . mourn for the war dead and pray for peace,” Abe told reporters.
Asked if he will visit Yasukuni at some point while he is prime minister, Abe declined to answer, saying any response to the question would cause diplomatic or political problems.
Yasukuni Shrine enshrines millions of Japanese war dead and has been an emotional touchstone for the families of soldiers killed in the nation’s wars.
But it also enshrines Class-A war criminals from World War II, including Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, and is regarded by many people as a symbol of Japanese wartime militarism.
Abe appears to be employing one of his favorite tactics by leaving his position as ambiguous as possible to reduce tensions with China and South Korean while placating his nationalist supporters, who have called on him to visit the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary, an emotional day for kin of the war dead.
In recent weeks, he has sent senior diplomatic officials to Beijing in an apparent effort to improve relations with China and explore ways to arrange a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
During a news conference Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga didn’t comment on whether he would visit the shrine, but he said he did make a decision on the matter “considering situations from a big-picture viewpoint.”
Suga also said it was his understanding that the two ministers who went in the morning did so in a private capacity, and not as Cabinet ministers.
The government should not comment on decisions by Cabinet members on whether to visit Yasukuni because it could infringe on their freedom of religion, he said.
He also declined comment on Abe’s decision regarding Yasukuni.
The next event where Abe might visit the shrine is the Reitaisai festival in October. Reitaisai is the most important ceremony a Shinto shrine holds.
Other politicians who went to Yasukuni on Thursday included former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who took part in a Shinto ceremony to pray for the souls of the war dead.
A group of 102 Diet members, including LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi, visited the shrine as a group.
Asked about criticism from China and South Korea, former health minister Hidehisa Otsuji, who chairs the Diet member group, told a news conference: “I don’t understand the meaning of the criticism and so I cannot make any comments about that.”