Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dedicated a “masakaki” decorated wooden stick offering used in Shinto rituals to Yasukuni Shrine, but did not visit the war-related shrine for the major autumn ceremony that began Thursday.
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura similarly dedicated a masakaki, a shrine spokesperson said, adding that the cost was ¥50,000 each.
Abe is expected to skip making a visit to the shrine during the Reitaisai ceremony that continues until Sunday and thereby avoid further angering China and South Korea, which regard Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism in the 1930s and ’40s.
“It’s all up to the prime minister, but it seems unlikely” that he will go to the shrine during this Reitaisai, a high-ranking government official had said earlier.
Abe’s dedication of a masakaki was likely designed to appease nationalists urging him to visit Yasukuni in the flesh.
Internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo and Keiji Furuya, chairman of National Public Safety Commission, are considering visiting Yasukuni during this Reitaisai, according to media reports.
Katsunobu Kato, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, told reporters that Abe and Tamura made their offerings in a private capacity and declining to comment on their intention for doing so.
“We believe it’s only natural to pray for people who fought (in the wars) and dedicated their lives to the state and to show respect for them,” Kato said at a news conference Thursday.
“But the prime minister and health minister acted in the capacity of private persons, and we, as the government, will not make any comment on that,” he said.
The government has been exploring ways to arrange summits between Abe and his Chinese and South Korean counterparts to ease the strained bilateral relationships.
Asked if Abe’s dedication of the masakaki represents any kind of diplomatic gesture to China and South Korea, Kato again declined to comment.
“(The dedication) is not something we will make any comment on,” he said.
The Reitaisai take place in spring and fall. Last spring, Abe similarly skipped visiting Yasukuni and dedicated a masakaki instead.
Abe has refused to comment if he will visit the shine as prime minister, saying the issue should not be turned into a diplomatic or political problem.
Yasukuni enshrines millions of Japanese war dead as well as Class-A war criminals from World War II, including Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.