A cross-party group of about 70 lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday during its annual spring festival to pay respects to Japan’s war dead.
The Shinto shrine in Tokyo is often a source of diplomatic friction with China and South Korea, which regard it as a symbol of Japan’s militarism before and during World War II because it honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering of a masakaki tree to the shrine on Sunday, the first day of the three-day spring festival, but again refrained from visiting.
“I think the deceased people will understand if it was a judgment for the country,” Hidehisa Otsuji, chairman of the cross-party group, told a news conference later in the day, referring to Abe’s decision not to visit the shrine.
Since taking office for the second time in 2012, Abe has only visited Yasukuni once, in December 2013. That visit brought Japan’s relations with China and South Korea to their lowest point in years.
The shrine’s annual spring and autumn festivals are its most important events.
The group’s members usually visit Yasukuni during the two festivals, as well as on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.