• Kyodo

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Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, viewed as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by its Asian neighbors, in his second trip there in as many months since stepping down as leader, sources close to the matter said.

The latest visit by Abe, who resigned in mid-September for health reasons, came after his successor Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sent a ritual offering of a masakaki tree to Yasukuni on Saturday to celebrate the Shinto shrine's biannual festival held in the spring and fall.

"I visited the shrine to show my sincere respect to the spirits of the war dead," Abe said, according to the sources.

Asked about Abe's visit, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government should not involve itself in his actions, noting his visit was made in a private capacity and is based on his personal belief.

The shrine is seen, especially by China and South Korea, as a symbol of Japan's past militarism because it honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead. Abe last visited the shrine on Sept. 19, three days after leaving office.

Hidehisa Otsuji, who heads a cross-party group of lawmakers that advocates the importance of visiting Yasukuni, also went to the shrine Monday.

As part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, members of the group, however, refrained from visiting the shrine together this year.

Abe's Yasukuni visit in December 2013, a year after the start of his second stint as premier, provoked a strong response from Beijing and Seoul and also disappointed Japan's key ally the United States.

He then refrained from visiting the shrine for the rest of his nearly eight-year tenure and instead sent, at his own expense, a ritual offering for its spring and autumn festivals, and a cash offering on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

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