Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine hosted 86 Diet members and 97 proxies for other legislators Friday during a special memorial service dedicated to Japan’s war dead.

The legislators are members of a nonpartisan Diet group that promotes visits to the Shinto shrine.

Makoto Koga, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, along with Tsutomu Hata, senior member of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, an LDP member, were among those who visited the shrine.

Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to the 2.4 million Japanese military personnel and officials who have died in various wars since 1853.

Prior to the visit, the group elected former Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara as its chairman. The post was left vacant after former House of Councilors member Masakuni Murakami resigned over a bribery scandal. Referring to Tuesday’s LDP presidential election to choose a successor to outgoing Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Kawara said, “I would feel grateful if (the next prime minister) would make a visit.”

Three of the four candidates in the race have expressed their intent to pay homage at the shrine, with the other voicing his interest in visiting the shrine if circumstances permit.

Visits to the shrine by Cabinet members have drawn criticism from Asian countries who suffered at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II. The visits are also controversial because Japan’s postwar Constitution stipulates the separation of the state and religion.

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