Japanese first lady visits Tokyo war shrine

Japanese first lady visits Tokyo war shrine
PHOTO: AFP

Tokyo - Japanese first lady Akie Abe said she has again visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, posting photos of the site on the same day Japan and South Korea struck a landmark agreement on wartime sex slaves.

"My final visit of the year," Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, wrote Monday on her Facebook page, also noting that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The shrine honours millions of Japan's war dead, including several senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II, and visits by high-profile figures anger wartime adversaries China and South Korea.

Abe, known as a fan of South Korean culture, did not reveal exactly when she visited the shrine. Her Facebook post was accompanied by two photos of shrine buildings.

The top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun cited a shrine official as saying it could not confirm whether she had entered the main shrine.

According to Abe's Facebook page, she also visited the shrine in May and August of this year.

Her husband, who visited the shrine in December of 2013 - which set off a firestorm of criticism in China and South Korea and earned a rare rebuke from top ally the United States - made a ritual offering in October, though he did not go himself.

The announcement of the first lady's latest visit comes as Japan and South Korea reached an agreement on the emotional and divisive issue of wartime sex slaves - known euphemistically as "comfort women" - that has long soured relations.

Japan said on Monday it was offering one billion yen (S$11.7 million) to help victims and an apology from the prime minister.

Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday after speaking by phone with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye that the agreement heralds a "new era" in relations between the two countries.

A conservative scholar close to Abe told the Mainichi Shimbun daily that he and his wife might have decided to make the latest visit "to show consideration to his supporters who are against the agreement with South Korea".

Visits to the shrine by senior Japanese politicians routinely draw an angry reaction from China and South Korea, which see it as a symbol of Tokyo's militaristic past.

South Koreans and Chinese say that while Japan has issued numerous apologies over its wartime conduct, statements and actions by leaders and others, such as paying homage at Yasukuni, raise questions about Tokyo's sincerity.

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