Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, the 74th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, but refrained from visiting the Shinto shrine on the day for the seventh year in a row.
The shrine, which is dedicated to Japan’s war dead, is seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of the country’s past militarism.
The prime minister’s last visit to the shrine, in December 2013, raised the ire of Japan’s Asian neighbors and disappointed its key ally the United States.
The prime minister, who has a conservative support base, made the monetary offering using his own funds, his aide Tomomi Inada told reporters.
As Abe did not visit the shrine, Inada, a former defense minister, made the ritual donation on his behalf. The offering was made under the name of Shinzo Abe without mentioning his titles of prime minister and president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, she said.
“I was told that (Abe) wanted to express appreciation and respect for those who devoted their lives to the country as we enjoy peace and prosperity,” Inada said.
On Thursday, groups of lawmakers also visited the controversial shrine, which honors convicted war criminals such as wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, along with over 2.4 million war dead.
From the LDP, Koichi Hagiuda, executive deputy secretary-general, and Shinjiro Koizumi, who is the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and is touted as a potential future leader of Japan, were among the lawmakers who went to the controversial shrine.
Wartime history continues to cast a pall over Japan’s relations with Asian neighbors.
This year’s anniversary comes as Sino-Japanese ties have been markedly improving despite disagreements over issues linked to wartime history and territory.
Japan’s relations with South Korea, however, have sunk to a fresh low as the Asian neighbors have yet to reconcile over wartime history.
The two countries are locked in a dispute triggered by South Korean court rulings last year that ordered Japanese firms to compensate individuals for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Tokyo maintains that the issue of compensation was settled by a 1965 agreement that normalized ties with Seoul.
Bilateral tensions have also spiked over Japan’s recent tightening of export controls on some South Korea-bound exports and its decision to remove Seoul from its list of nations with preferential trade status.
Japan has said such steps were taken for security reasons, not in retaliation for South Korea’s failure to address the dispute stemming from the compensation orders.
This year, Yasukuni marks the 150th anniversary of its establishment. The shrine had sought last fall to realize a visit by then-Emperor Akihito to commemorate its founding but his aides declined, according to officials at the shrine and the Imperial Household Agency who spoke on condition of anonymity.