Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering Thursday to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to celebrate its annual autumn festival but stopped short of visiting the shrine, this amid fears that any strong and visible action may deteriorate already strained relations with China and South Korea. The premier has had to tread carefully around this issue, as not to exacerbate ties with China and South Korea further, while obviously also taking time to please his conservative support base.
The Yasukuni Shrine is meant to honor Japan’s war dead, which includes several convicted war criminals, and is regarded by Japan’s Asian neighbors – particularly South Korea and China – as a symbol of the country’s wartime acts. As a sign of his careful dealing with this issue, the premier has not visited the shrine since returning to power last December, and has refused to comment on whether he would do so. In interviews, he has constantly reiterated that members of his Cabinet should decide for themselves whether to visit.
Among his Cabinet members, health minister Norihisa Tamura had also paid out of his own pocket and presented an offering on Thursday. The past two times he made offerings were during the shrine’s spring festival in April, and on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, when he made a ritual offering as president of the Liberal Democratic Party.
A deputy government spokesman confirmed that Abe made the offering in his private capacity and that the government was in no position to comment, adding that the offering was not disbursed from public funds. “I believe it’s natural to express homage to those who fought and sacrificed their precious lives for the sake of their country, and to pray for the repose of their souls,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in an interview. This issue continues to be a thorn in the side of Japan’s relations with South Korea and China, both taking exception to Japan’s honoring of their wartime dead, and also having their own territorial disputes with Japan.