As expected, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reverted to just sending his offering to the highly controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Monday. This suggests, as in last year’s spring and autumn festivals, that he will most likely not make an appearance at the shrine – known for honoring Japan’s war dead including convicted war criminals –during the duration of the spring festival from Monday through Wednesday. It was reported that the premier dedicated and sent a “Masakaki” tree offering to the shrine.
Abe may have chosen this offering to keep away from controversy ahead of United States President Barack Obama’s visit in a few days’ time, while trying to save face with the conservative bloc that has supported his administration. Abe had visited the shrine in December last year, sparking angered reactions from China and South Korea. More notably, the United States also declared its disappointment at Abe’s December visit. Obama’s three-day state visit to Japan – which starts on Wednesday – may include talks about Washington’s concerns regarding the strained relations between Tokyo and its East Asian neighbors. A visit to the shrine would arguably put undue pressure on these talks. On the other hand, doing nothing will also anger the conservative support that Abe has, and so this measured approach seems best.
Abe’s offering comes after Japan’s state minister in charge of the North Korean abduction issue, Keiji Furuya, himself visited the Yasukuni Shrine on Sunday. Furuya has verbally defended his actions, saying that it is every Japanese’s duty to honor the wartime dead, as they have “sacrificed their lives for the state.” This visit and Furuya’s comments, along with Abe’s offering, is likely to draw criticism from Japan’s Asian neighbors who have been very sensitive about historical issues and how the Abe administration has handled them. Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo also visited the shrine on April 12.