The entire Cabinet along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refrained from visiting Tokyo’s war-linked Yasukuni Shrine during this year’s four-day autumn festival that ended Saturday.
They apparently opted not to visit the shrine, regarded by many as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, because Abe is trying to improve his country’s relationship with China, sources said.
The prime minister will begin a three-day trip to China on Thursday and a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping is set for Friday.
The Shinto shrine honors millions of the nation’s ward dead along with 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
There is concern in the government that a visit by Abe or any member of his Cabinet would severely harm Sino-Japanese ties.
Abe last visited the shrine in December 2013, a year after he returned to power, drawing a wave of criticism from various countries.
He has not visited the shrine since, but he has made masakaki ritual offerings during the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals, including last week’s event.
No one from Abe’s Cabinet has visited the controversial shrine during its biannual festivals or on the anniversary of Japan’s WWII surrender since last year, when then-internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi made a trip to the shrine during its spring festival.
Among senior government officials outside of the Cabinet, Akira Sato, state minister of the Cabinet Office, and Seiichi Eto, special adviser to the prime minister, visited the shrine during the latest festival.
Seventy-one lawmakers visited the shrine Thursday, including members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.