Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will refrain from visiting the war-linked Yasukuni shrine, viewed as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by Asian neighbors, during its upcoming spring festival, people close to him said Tuesday.
The prime minister will instead send a ritual "masakaki" tree offering to the Shinto shrine in central Tokyo to celebrate the biannual festival starting Wednesday, as he did for the autumn event last year, they said.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and other ministers said earlier Tuesday they will not visit Yasukuni, which honors convicted war criminals along with more than 2.4 million war dead.
During the shrine's last autumn festival in October, neither Suga nor any of his Cabinet members visited the shrine.
Suga, who took office in September last year, sent a masakaki offering then to the shrine in his capacity as prime minister to celebrate the festival, following the example of his predecessor Shinzo Abe.
Past visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders and lawmakers have drawn criticism particularly from China and South Korea, where memories of Japan's militarism run deep.
Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa said Tuesday she will not visit the Shinto shrine, while Taro Kono, the administrative and regulatory reform minister, also indicated he will refrain from visiting or sending a ritual offering.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the nation's coronavirus response, said the same day, "As my head is occupied with coronavirus, I have yet to think about (the shrine visit). I will deal with it appropriately."
Land minister Kazuyoshi Akaba and Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa have already said they will not visit the shrine or send ritual offerings.