Prime Minister Shinzo Abe skipped a visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Wednesday, the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945.
Abe has not visited the shrine for six consecutive years on Aug. 15, one of the most emotional and politically sensitive days for the people of Japan.
Instead, Abe dispatched his aide Masahiko Shibayama, who made a cash offering called tamagushi-ryō to the Shinto shrine on his behalf.
Facing reporters at Yasukuni, Shibayama, a Lower House member and a special adviser to Abe in his role as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, quoted the prime minister as saying, “I’m very sorry that I cannot pay a visit (to Yasukuni) today.”
By contrast, Abe, in the past, regularly visited the shrine on the anniversary of the end of the war while not serving in a Cabinet post or as prime minister.
During Japan’s wars of the 1930s and 1940s, Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the souls of those who died in war, served as a spiritual pillar of Japan’s militarism.
Today 2.46 million war dead who dedicated their lives “to defend the home land” are enshrined there.
At the same time, it also enshrines World War II Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. For this reason, China and South Korea are opposed to visits to the shrine by key government figures. Imperial Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and waged a full-scale war with China beginning in 1937.
Abe strained relations with China and South Korea when he visited Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, 2013, the first anniversary of his political comeback.
But since then, Abe has avoided going to the controversial shrine in an apparent effort to avoid any additional diplomatic troubles with the two Asian neighbors. The prime minister is reportedly trying to arrange a trip to Beijing in October to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On the same day, a group of 50 lawmakers visited Yasukuni Shrine. These included Upper House member and former welfare minister Hidehisa Otsuji and Masahisa Sato, senior vice foreign minister.
Separately, former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Lower House member Shinjiro Koizumi paid a formal visit by entering the main shrine building. Koizumi is a son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and considered a possible candidate for prime minister in the future.
Otsuji’s group has argued that they visit the Yasukuni Shrine to show respect for those who died defending Japan and to pray for everlasting peace.
During a news conference later in the day, Otsuji told reporters he is concerned about the fact that today most Diet members have no direct World War II experience due to the legislature’s shifting generational makeup.
“I wonder what kind of effects (the generational change) will have on the future course of Japan. I hope it won’t adversely affect it,” Otsuji said.