Cabinet minister Keiji Furuya visited war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Sunday a day ahead of its annual spring festival.
The lawmaker, who chairs the National Public Safety Commission, said on his website that he visited the controversial shrine to pay his respects early because he had duties to attend to next week.
“I believe that to honor those dead who gave up their lives for our country is the right thing for a Japanese to do,” said Furuya, who also serves as state minister for the North Korea abductees issue.
He said he regularly visits Yasukuni during the spring and autumn festivals, and on Aug. 15 — the day Japan surrendered in 1945.
Official visits by politicians to Yasukuni regularly infuriate China and both Koreas. The 2.5 million war dead enshrined there include Class-A war criminals from Japan’s brutal colonization of Korea and wartime occupation of parts of China and other countries.
This year’s April 21 to 23 spring festival overlaps with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit — part of an Asian tour that also includes South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Obama in late March helped bring together Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye for their first face-to-face meeting since they took office more than a year ago. The absence of such a meeting between America’s key allies in Asia was of deep concern to Washington.
Internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo prayed at Yasukuni earlier this month. Abe, who has expressed a desire to see Japan expand its role in regional defense, makes regular visits but has only gone once as prime minister.
Some politicians who visit the Shinto facility argue they are not advocating war but making a pacifist statement by remembering those who died and suffered in war.
Abe, who visited Yasukuni on the first anniversary of the launch of his government on Dec. 26 last year, is expected to refrain from making another ahead of the summit with Obama on Thursday in Tokyo. He will likely opt to make a “masakaki” tree offering to the controversial shrine as he did last spring.