• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine in Tokyo viewed as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism by its Asian neighbors.

South Korea responded by calling the tree offering disappointing and regrettable and urged Japanese leaders to squarely face history.

The masakaki tree offering was made under his name as prime minister to celebrate the shrine’s biannual festival held in the spring and autumn.

Kishida, who became prime minister Oct. 4, does not plan to visit the shrine during the two-day autumn festival that runs through Monday, according to people close to him.

Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, meanwhile visited the shrine on Sunday morning.

“I came here as the former prime minister,” Suga told reporters after visiting the shrine.

Yasukuni honors convicted war criminals along with about 2.5 million war dead. Past visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders and lawmakers have especially angered China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s wartime acts still rankle.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Seoul “expresses deep disappointment and regret” over Japanese leaders “once again sending offerings to and repeating their visits to” the shrine that “glorifies Japan’s war of aggression and enshrines war criminals.”

The statement, which took the form of a commentary by a ministry spokesperson, said the government “urges the leaders of Japan to squarely face history” and “demonstrate through action” their reflection on the past.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Yasukuni visit in December 2013, a year after the start of his second stint as prime minister, triggered a strong response from China and South Korea and also disappointed Japan’s key ally the United States.

Suga during his one-year tenure from September last year did not visit the shrine and sent ritual offerings for the biannual festivals.

Suga also did not visit the shrine when he served as chief Cabinet secretary for Abe for more than seven years.

The former prime minister did not elaborate on why he did so this time when he spoke to the press, only saying, “It was something I decided by myself.”

Kishida’s decision to take the same approach comes at a politically delicate time in Japan. Less than two weeks since taking office, Kishida dissolved the Lower House on Thursday for a general election at the end of this month.

Among his Cabinet members, health minister Shigeyuki Goto and Kenji Wakamiya, minister in charge of the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, also sent tree offerings to the shrine.

The festivals normally run for three days, but, like last year’s festivals, the autumn event has been shortened to two days as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Also, as a precaution against the virus, a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers who are supportive of visiting the shrine to pay respects to the country’s war dead have decided to refrain from going there together for the autumn festival.

Hidehisa Otsuji, a former vice president of the House of Councilors who leads the group, and Toshiei Mizuochi, chairman of the steering committee of the Upper House, both lawmakers with the ruling party, visited the shrine Sunday on behalf of other members.

The majority of the around 2.5 million people enshrined at Yasukuni were military servicemen and civilian employees of the Japanese military.

Yasukuni added wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class-A war criminals to the enshrined deities in 1978, stirring controversy in Japan and abroad.

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