Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni shrine for war dead Tuesday to mark the anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, but did not visit in person, an apparent effort to avoid upsetting China and South Korea.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged Beijing and Seoul because it honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with other war dead.
Abe’s move comes amid heightened tensions in Asia in the wake of North Korean missile tests, threats from Pyongyang to strike the area around the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam and U.S. President Donald Trump warning of “fire and fury” if North Korea threatened the United States.
One visit to Yasukuni by Abe
Masahiko Shibayama, a lawmaker from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters at the shrine that he had made an offering on Abe’s behalf to express condolences to those who sacrificed their lives in the war and pray for peace.
Asked for specific words from Abe, Shibayama added: “He said he was sorry he couldn’t go himself and asked me to go express these feelings in his place.”
Abe has only visited the shrine in person once since taking office in 2012, an action that prompted criticism from key ally the United States as well as from Asian nations, but has sent offerings Aug. 15 and during Yasukuni’s twice yearly festivals.
Dozens of Japanese lawmakers were expected to visit the shrine later in the day on the emotive anniversary of the end of World War II, a move that frequently provokes criticism from other Asian nations.
Japanese pay their respects
The shrine was crowded from early morning with ordinary Japanese on an unusually cool and cloudy day for August.
“I came here to pay respects to some of my ancestors who fought in the war and are honored here,” said Takahashi Hajime, an office worker from Tokyo. “I come here every year with my son and my wife, it is a family event for us.”
Tensions in the region, with North Korea and the United States both threatening military action over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, weighed on the minds of many at the shrine.
“We come here to pray for peace,” said Koto Nakano, an 18-year-old student who came with members of his kickboxing gym. “We do feel worried about the North Korean threats but merely feeling fear for the unknown is not enough, we need to also work towards sending the message of peace.”