Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sent a ritual offering Saturday to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial war-linked shrine that Asian neighbors view as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
The masakaki tree offering was made to celebrate the Shinto shrine's biannual festival held in the spring and autumn. The shrine honors convicted war criminals along with more than 2.4 million war dead.
Suga sent the offering in the name of the prime minister. Suga, who took over as prime minister last month, is continuing the tradition of leaders paying their respects but refraining from visiting the shrine in an official capacity, which can be seen as crossing a diplomatic red line.
His predecessor, Shinzo Abe, had also regularly sent offerings via an aide on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II and during the shrine's spring and autumn festivals. From 2013 to the end of his tenure, Abe refrained from visiting in person to avoid angering China and South Korea.
Both Beijing and Seoul have expressed strong opposition to past visits to the shrine by top Japanese officials, including the prime minister and the chief Cabinet secretary, as they regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan's past military aggression. Abe's pilgrimage to the shrine in 2013 sparked outrage in South Korea and China and an expression of "disappointment" from the United States.
This year, some Cabinet ministers visited the shrine on Aug. 15, the first such trip in four years.
Suga paid a visit to the shrine in August 2011, according to a post on his official blog, well before becoming Abe's chief Cabinet secretary in December 2012. Abe paid a personal visit to Yasukuni on Sept. 19, days after resigning as prime minister due to a chronic illness.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul deteriorated after South Korean court rulings in 2018 ordered Japanese firms to pay damages to Koreans forced to work during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
The dispute also spilled over to trade and other areas, with a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact pushed to the brink of collapse last year.
Japan's relations with China have been improving, despite outstanding differences over history and the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China also claims the uninhabited islets, which it calls the Diaoyu.