Japan PM Shinzo Abe sends offering to Yasukuni war shrine

Japan's premier, Shinzo Abe, has sent a ritual offering to a controversial Tokyo shrine for war dead. Such gestures are a source of tension in the region, where the site is seen as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.

Shinzo Abe sent a sacred "masakaki" tree bearing his name to the Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday at the start of its annual four-day autumn festival.

According to Japanese news agencies, however, the prime minister is unlikely to visit the site in person. Instead, he is scheduled to visit northern Japan for campaign events ahead of the country's general election on Sunday, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians have provoked outrage in the past, particularly from neighboring China and South Korea, who see the site as glorifying Japan's past militarism. But Abe and others in his government argue that it is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers.

The shrine commemorates all Japan's 2.46 million war dead from imperial-era conflicts, therefore nominally including a number of military and political leaders who were convicted of war crimes following the Second World War.

News | 26.12.2013

The Yasukuni Shrine for Japan's war dead is a source of great controversy in the region

The premier has been sending ritual offerings to the memorial for years, but he has only ever visited once in person. In December 2013, the year after he was elected prime minister for the second time, Abe offered prayers at the shrine, sparking an international outcry. Since then he has kept his distance while continuing to contribute offerings during the site's annual festivals.

This year's festival comes as Japan is seeking to improve relations with Beijing and Seoul amid heightened global tensions over North Korea's nuclear tests and missile launches.

Japan's revered war criminals

Hideki Tojo

Hideki Tojo was Japan's prime minister from 1941 to 1944 and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Imperial Army. He was accused of being responsible for the killing of 4 million Chinese as well as conducting biological experiments on prisoners of war. Following his country's surrender in 1945 he tried to kill himself with a pistol. However, he survived, confessed to the crimes and was hanged in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals

Kenji Doihara

The "China expert" began his career in 1912 as a secret agent in Beijing. Doihara, who spoke Mandarin and several Chinese dialects fluently, founded the "Manchurian Empire" together with China's last emperor, Puyi. It was a puppet regime under Japanese control. In 1940, Doihara backed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hanged eight years later.

Japan's revered war criminals

Iwane Matsui

Matsui was accused of being involved in the 1937 Nanjing massacre in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed within a week. Nowadays, historians believe that the decision for the carnage was taken by the imperial family. The family, however, was never charged. A tribunal convicted Matsui of being a "Class B" war criminal. He was executed in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals

Heitaro Kimura

In 1939, Kimura waged a brutal war against the armed forces of China's Communist Party in the eastern part of the country. He set up concentration camps in which thousands died. In 1944, he was sent to Burma where he became army commander. He used prisoners of war to build a 415-kilometer-long railway connecting Thailand to Burma. Some 13,000 allied soldiers died. He was hanged in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals

Koki Hirota

Hirota was Japan's prime minister until February 1937 and later became foreign minister. He was charged with sanctioning the Nanjing massacre. Hirota (seen here in the middle) was the only civilian politician to be hanged in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals

Seishiro Itagaki

On September 18, 1931, Itagaki orchestrated a bomb attack on a railway in the northeastern region of Manchuria. Japan used this as a pretext to declare war on China. Itagaki later fought in North Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia until he surrendered in 1945. He was found guilty of escalating the war and was hanged in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals

Akira Muto

Ever since the outbreak of the war, Muto fought in China and was later found guilty of taking part in several atrocities, including the Nanjing massacre. According to the judges, Muto not only let prisoners of war starve but also "tortured and murdered" them.

Japan's revered war criminals

Yosuke Matsuoka

Under his leadership, Japan left the League of Nations after some member states accused Japan of starting the war against China. Matsuoka was foreign minister between 1940 and 1941 and was one of the co-signers of the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In 1946, he died of tuberculosis before being sentenced.

Japan's revered war criminals

Osami Nagano

Marshal Admiral Osami Nagano, a supporter of the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, ordered the attack on December 7, 1941. Twelve US warships either sunk or were badly damaged and more than 2,400 American soldiers were killed. Nagano died of pneumonia in 1946 before he could be tried in the Tokyo war crimes trials.

Japan's revered war criminals

Toshio Shiratori

He was the head of Japanese propaganda. Shiratori was Japan's ambassador to Italy and pushed for an alliance between his country, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As an advisor to the foreign minister, he disseminated his fascist ideals both "on and off the stage." Toshio was sentenced to life in prison where he died in 1949.

Japan's revered war criminals

Kiichiro Hiranuma

Hiranuma was Japan's prime minister from January to August 1939. During this time Japan strengthened its ties with Germany and Italy. Kiichiro was later considered to be one of Emperor Hirohito's closest advisors. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 1952. He died that same year.

Japan's revered war criminals

Kuniaki Koiso

Koiso was Japan's prime minister between July 1944 and April 1945, and served in China and North Korea. He was sentenced to life in prison although the tribunal was of the view he didn't take direct part in the atrocities committed by the military. The judges, however, ruled that he had been in a position to put a stop to them. Koiso died of cancer in 1950 while serving his jail sentence.

Japan's revered war criminals

Yoshijiro Umezu

From 1939 to 1945, Umezu was in command of the 700,000-strong Guandong Army based in northeastern China. Although he opposed a Japanese surrender shortly before the end of the war, Umezu (seen here in uniform in the first row) was ordered by the emperor to sign the document of unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945. He was sentenced to life in prison and died in jail in 1949.

Japan's revered war criminals

Shigenori Togo

Togo was an expert on Germany. He spoke German, studied German philology, married a German and was appointed Japan's ambassador to Germany in 1937. He was appointed foreign minister in 1941 and again in 1945, when he advised the Japanese government to surrender. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and died in 1950 while in jail.

nm/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)