Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet will not visit a shrine that is criticized for glorifying Japan's militaristic past on next week's anniversary of the country's World War II surrender, a report said yesterday.
Every year, dozens of lawmakers pray at Yasukuni shrine during its spring and fall festivals and on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the war's end.
But Kyodo News agency said none was planning to go this Aug. 15. Abe, under pressure from a powerful lobby supporting the Shinto shrine, has refused to publicly state his intentions.
Yasukuni honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed wartime leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals, and is vilified by critics at home and abroad as a symbol of the country's militaristic past.
Financial Services Minister Yuji Yamamoto told reporters yesterday that an official visit to the shrine would be "harmful" to Japan's relations with Asia. Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki said he will not go to be fair as a minister supervising religious establishments, and Transport Minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, a Buddhist, cited religious reasons.
Japan's top government spokesman said he will not visit, either.
"I'm not planning to go," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters. "That's my principle."
Yasukuni was run by the navy before and during the war and was used to encourage war spirit.
The decision to stay away apparently reflects consideration of Japan's fragile ties with its Asian neighbors.
Repeated visits to Yasukuni by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, including his last on Aug. 15 last year, angered China and South Korea, triggering refusals to hold summits with him.
The two countries have since pressed Abe to refrain from visiting the shrine to demonstrate Japan's remorse for its wartime invasions.
Abe, an ardent nationalist, regularly prayed at Yasukuni in the past -- but apparently not since taking office last September. Instead, he has sent offerings to the shrine, triggering concerns from Beijing and Seoul.