Photo/IllutrationNearly 100 Diet members visit Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Kudan district, coinciding with the shrine’s spring festival, on April 21. (Shigetaka Kodama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi and 95 lawmakers visited war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on April 21 for its spring festival, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not among them.

Instead, Abe offered a “masakaki” sacred tree branch to the Shinto shrine in the Kudan district under his official title and name.

Joining Abe in offering masakaki were Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, Upper House President Chuichi Date, and Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the minister of health, labor and welfare.

The lawmakers who visited the shrine belong to a group called Minnade Yasukunijinja ni Sanpaisuru Kokkaigiin no Kai, which literally means, “A group of Diet members who visit Yasukuni Shrine together.”

Members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party accounted for 86 of the visitors. Four came from the main opposition Democratic Party, while two were from the opposition Japan Innovation Party.

The shrine has long been a source of controversy around Asia because it memorializes not only the nation’s war dead but also 14 Class-A war criminals.

Asian countries victimized by Japan’s actions during World War II regard the shrine as a symbol of the country’s past militarism.

In December 2013, Abe sparked an uproar in Japan and abroad, particularly in South Korea and China, by visiting Yasukuni Shrine after he returned to power a year earlier.

He has not returned to the shrine in consideration of diplomatic relations with Japan’s neighbors.