Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering on Friday to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine for its annual spring festival but is expected to forgo making a visit to the controversial Shinto facility in person.
Abe has not visited the Tokyo shrine since December 2013 — a year after he became prime minister for the second time. He has instead made biannual masakaki (sacred tree) offerings for its spring and autumn festivals.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi paid a visit Friday, telling reporters she came “as a Japanese person, to offer my gratitude with reverence to those who died for state policies.
“The way we commemorate (the dead) shouldn’t turn into a diplomatic issue,” said Takaichi, who visits regularly.
About 90 members of a cross-party group of lawmakers visited the shrine on Friday, according to the group.
Seiichi Eto, an Abe aide in the Upper House, also made a visit.
Non-major Cabinet ministers often make regular visits and may drop by the shrine at some point during the festival, which ends Sunday.
The shrine honors the nation’s war dead as well as World War II leaders who were convicted of war crimes by a post-war international tribunal.
On Friday, South Korea voiced “deep concerns and regret” over Abe’s ritual tree offering.
A statement released by the South Korean Foreign Ministry said the shrine “glorifies Japan’s past colonial exploitation and war of aggression, and also enshrines war criminals.”
It is widely regarded as a symbol of Japan’s 20th century militarism in Asia, particularly in neighboring countries like China and South Korea that suffered heavily from Japanese brutality before the Pacific War began.
The Abe administration is probably keen to avoid straining ties with China after emphasizing the importance of China taking on a greater role in urging North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki and the heads of both houses of the Diet also sent ritual offerings on Friday, according to the shrine.