Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual donation to a controversial Tokyo war shrine Monday, the 71st anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, but avoided visiting, in an apparent nod to China and South Korea.
Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, as well as senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after the war.
The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan’s colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was “disappointed” by the action.
He and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to burial grounds such as Arlington National Cemetery in the US.
But he has since refrained from going and reactions by China and South Korea to Yasukuni visits by Cabinet ministers and lawmakers, while remaining critical, have become less intense.
Abe sent the offering on Monday as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — not as prime minister — in an apparent bid to lessen any criticism.
Speaking to reporters, Yasutoshi Nishimura, a party aide to Abe who made the donation on his behalf, said it came from Abe’s own money.
“Personally, I offered my condolences to the spirits of the war dead who fought for the country,” he told reporters on a muggy morning in Tokyo amid the sound of chirping cicadas.
“We should carry on the path of a peaceful country and should never initiate war.”
Yasukuni Shrine also confirmed the donation.
Koichi Hagiuda, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, visited the shrine as did Gen Nakatani, the former defence minister.
But Tomomi Inada, Abe’s hawkish new defence chief who has been a frequent visitor to the shrine in past years, was on an official visit to Djibouti.
Speculation had been intense over whether she would visit, but the overseas trip appeared to provide a convenient way to avoid angering China and South Korea.
Japanese media reported that Sanae Takaichi, a right-leaning member of Abe’s Cabinet, was expected to visit sometime during the day.
An official annual ceremony commemorating the end of the war will take place later today inside a Tokyo arena and be attended by Abe as well as Emperor Akihito.