About 150 Japanese lawmakers have visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, in a move likely to further sour ties with China and South Korea.
Yasukuni shrine commemorates Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War Two.
The visit, marking a spring festival, comes a day before President Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo.
It also comes amid strained relations between Japan and its neighbors over geopolitical and historical tensions.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe was not among those who visited the shrine, but he sent a traditional offering on Monday.
The Chinese foreign ministry denounced Shinzo Abe’s offering as a “negative asset for Japan”, saying that both it and visits by Japanese cabinet ministers reflected “the erroneous attitude towards history adopted by Japan’s incumbent cabinet”.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said that Shinzo Abe had “romanticized Japanese colonialism and its war of aggression” by paying tribute to the shrine.
Japanese officials visit the shrine during seasonal festivals and on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
Japanese lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji told the Associated Press news agency that he visited the shrine “with a calm mind” and that there was “no further meaning” to the visit.
“I have been visiting here for decades,” he said.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, meanwhile, said: “As this visit was my own personal visit, I don’t believe that it will have any effect on the US president’s visit.”
China and South Korea view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and have accused Tokyo of failing to show the necessary remorse for wartime atrocities.
When Shinzo Abe visited the shrine on December 26, 2013, the US embassy in Tokyo expressed disappointment and said Abe’s actions would “exacerbate tensions” with neighbors.
Washington has also been trying to get Japan and South Korea to set aside their differences and work more closely together, both on North Korea and in terms of counter-balancing China’s growing power in the region.
Ties between China and Japan meanwhile, remain severely strained, over historical tensions and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
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