• Kyodo


Dozens of lawmakers on Friday visited war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo ahead of its annual spring festival.

Official visits to the shrine cause friction with countries in the region invaded by Japan during the war because the Shinto facility honors Class A war criminals along with millions of the nation’s war dead.

The nonpartisan group of 76 was drawn from ruling and opposition members of both houses of the Diet, which has a combined 707 seats.

They were joined by government officials including Shinsuke Okuno, senior vice internal affairs minister, Masahisa Sato, senior vice foreign minister and Toshiei Mizuochi, the senior vice education minister who heads the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to avoid visiting the shrine in person during the three-day festival, which starts Saturday, to avoid diplomatic problems. He last visited the shrine in December 2013, infuriating China and South Korea.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda told reporters Friday that they do not plan to visit the shrine during the festival.

“Especially at a time when Japan is faced with troubles both at home and abroad, I want the prime minister to visit Yasukuni and steer the country in a way that would not disgrace the names (of the war dead),” Hidehisa Otsuji, former vice president of the House of Councilors and head of the group, said at a news conference after his visit.

The group regularly visits Yasukuni for the spring and autumn festivals in April and October, which are regarded as the shrine’s most important events. It also visits on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.