TOKYO - Dozens of Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday made a pilgrimage to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which neighbours China and South Korea see as a symbol of Tokyo's militaristic past.
There were no senior ministers among the group and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refrained from sending an offering, as he has done in the past, a shrine official told AFP.
In total, 61 MPs - mainly from Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party - attended the war shrine and 75 sent a representative, according to one deputy who briefed reporters at the scene.
The shrine honours millions of Japanese war dead, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.
Beijing and Seoul view it as a symbol of Tokyo's past aggression. The site has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
In October, Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine but did not visit, a move seen as an effort to minimise protests from neighbours over the issue.
Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a move that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.
But he has since refrained from going and sent ritual offerings instead. Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers, and compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
Tokyo is also seeking warmer ties with Beijing and Seoul amid global concern over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.