TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent on Thursday a ritual offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, and several political leaders visited it in person, drawing condemnation from neighbouring China and South Korea.
The shrine honours 2.5 million war dead including 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal. It is seen by China, South Korea and others as a symbol of Japanese aggression before and during World War Two.
Many Japanese pay respects to relatives at Yasukuni and conservatives say leaders should be able to honour the dead there. But past visits and offerings have provoked angry responses from Asian neighbours.
Kishida has recently followed the example of previous Japanese leaders by refraining from visiting in person during spring and autumn festivals to avoid stirring anger, instead sending an offering, as he did on Thursday.
Japan’s top government spokesman, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, declined to comment.
While Kishida stayed away, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and current ruling Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Sanae Takaichi did visit the shrine.
South Korea expressed “deep disappointment and regret”.
“Japan’s responsible leaders have once again sent offerings to and paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine which glorifies Japan’s history of war of aggression and enshrines war criminals,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Our government strongly urges Japan’s responsible figures to look direct into their history, and show through action their humble reflection and sincere remorse of its past history.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said offerings and visits to the shrine “reflect Japan’s incorrect attitude towards its own history of aggression”.
“The Chinese side urges the Japanese side to earnestly keep its promises, reflect and face up to its history of aggression, completely cut itself off from militarism, and win the trust of its Asian neighbours and the international community with practical actions,” Wang told a regular briefing.
The neighbours’ ties with Japan have long been strained by what they see as Japan’s reluctance to atone for its wartime past. China and South Korea suffered under Japan’s sometimes brutal occupation and colonial rule before its defeat in 1945.
No Japanese prime minister has visited Yasukuni while in office since Abe did in 2013, a visit that sparked outrage in South Korea and China and drew an expression of “disappointment” from key ally the United States.
Abe told reporters that visiting the shrine had special resonance this year given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In Ukraine, many brave people are currently fighting and risking their lives to protect their country,” he said, adding that he wanted to pay his respects to those who had given their lives for Japan.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Soo-hyang Choi in SEOUL and Eduardo Baptista in BEIJING; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel)