• Kyodo

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Two Cabinet ministers visited war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Sunday, a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering in lieu of a visit to its annual autumn festival to avoid offending Japan’s regional neighbors.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi went before noon following a visit by Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, who became the first member of Abe’s new Cabinet to visit the Shinto institution.

The shrine is a constant source of diplomatic friction with China and South Korea in light of its role as the spiritual backbone of the Imperial Japanese war effort. Official visits are often perceived as attempts to glorify the war.

Both signed the shrine’s register book using their ministerial titles but paid for the ritual offerings out of their own pockets.

Iwaki told reporters at the shrine that he was visiting to express his “gratitude to the souls of the war dead who fought for the country.”

“I renewed my prayer for peace as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II,” Iwaki said. Stressing the importance of paying respect to those who sacrificed their lives for their country, he said such respect “should be paid in each country according to its own tradition.”

Takaichi told reporters after the visit, “I expressed my heartfelt gratitude to those who sacrificed themselves for the country.”

“How the last war is viewed by future generations should be considered separately from consolation for the war dead. It is a matter that has nothing to do with diplomatic relations,” she said.

Takaichi, who became internal affairs minister in September last year, visited the shrine during the autumn and spring festivals and on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of WWII.

Official visits by Japanese leaders usually draw immediate rebukes from China and South Korea because the shrine honors wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and other convicted Class-A war criminals along with the more than 2.4 million war dead.

Abe is likely to refrain from visiting during the four-day festival through Tuesday because he has summit talks planned with China and South Korea in early November.

After the ruling parties waged a bitter, prolonged campaign to enact controversial security laws in the Diet last month, Abe is apparently hoping to shift the public’s focus to his diplomatic and economic goals as his party gears up for the critical Upper House election next summer.

Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have not held a one-on-one meeting since the leaders took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively, because of lingering differences on territory and wartime history.

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