TOKYO: High-ranking Japanese cabinet ministers made visits to the country’s Yasukuni war shrine on Sunday, paying their respects at a site seen by neighboring countries as a symbol of Tokyo’s militarist past.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a passionate supporter of the shrine, made a ritual offering on Saturday, but is thought unlikely to visit in person.
He is due to hold talks with China and South Korea in the coming weeks, countries that bore the brunt of Japanese military aggression in the 20th century.
Sanae Takaichi, internal affairs minister and a close associate of conservative Abe, visited the shrine, which honors those who fought and died for Japan, including a number of senior military and political figures convicted of the most serious war crimes.
Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki went separately to the shrine, which is now hosting its regular autumn festival.
“I visited the shrine in order to express my gratitude to the sacred spirits of those who fought and sacrificed their precious lives for the country,” Iwaki told reporters after visiting.
“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the (World War II). I came here to renew my thoughts for peace,” he said.
Iwaki joined the Abe cabinet this month.
Abe is preparing to meet with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts for their first trilateral talks since 2012, which are scheduled for November 1.
Abe is also expected to hold his first official bilateral meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on the sidelines of the summit.
Abe and other nationalists say the Yasukuni shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
Abe has visited in his time in office, but his December 2013 pilgrimage sparked fury in Asia and earned him a diplomatic slap on the wrist from the United States, which said it was “disappointed.”
Scores of conservative lawmakers, possibly including cabinet ministers, are expected to go to the shrine to mark the autumn festival on Tuesday.