Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to a controversial war shrine on Tuesday, risking protest from China and South Korea which see it as a painful reminder of Tokyo’s warring past.
The conservative premier — who has been criticised for what some see as a revisionist take on Japan’s wartime record — sent a sacred “masakaki” tree bearing his name to Yasukuni Shrine as it starts a four-day festival.
No prominent political figures were seen at the shrine early Tuesday.
Abe is expected to pass on visiting the site during the festival, according to media in Japan, which is in the middle of campaigning for a snap election on Sunday.
Tokyo is also seeking warmer ties with Beijing and Seoul amid global concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The shrine honours millions of Japanese war dead, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.
The site 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, including China and the two Koreas.
Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
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.
But he has since refrained from going, sending ritual offerings instead.