Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni Shrine, officials there said Friday, a move likely to draw angry responses from China and South Korea.
Abe dedicated a “masakaki” tree branch in his capacity as prime minister for the Tokyo shrine’s autumn festival running from Friday to Monday.
The Shinto shrine honors convicted Class-A war criminals alongside the nation’s war dead.
Abe is currently visiting Italy for the Asia-Europe Meeting. He is scheduled to return home Saturday.
The offering suggests that he will refrain from visiting the controversial shrine during the festival to leave room for mending ties with Beijing and Seoul.
Abe is seeking to hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next month in Beijing, saying that the two countries need to build “stable friendly relations.”
Abe last visited the shrine in December on the first anniversary of the launch of his government, a decision seen as a move aimed at appeasing his conservative supporters.
He has refrained from visiting the shrine on other occasions since returning to power, sending the ritual tree offering as prime minister for the spring festival in April and then in his capacity as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in August for the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including members of Abe’s LDP and the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, visited the shrine en masse on the first day of the four-day autumn festival.
It is customary for the group, which promotes Yasukuni visits by lawmakers, to pay homage during the annual spring and fall festivals and on the surrender anniversary on Aug. 15.
Among Cabinet members, internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi said she intends to visit the shrine during the festival, prompting lawmakers from Komeito, the coalition partner of the LDP, to urge the conservative lawmaker to exercise self-restraint.