Japan cabinet minister visits controversial war shrine

TOKYO - A Japanese cabinet minister known for her outspoken nationalistic views on Monday visited a controversial Tokyo war shrine, in a move certain to aggravate tensions with neighbours China and South Korea.

Tomomi Inada's visit came as a picture emerged on social media purporting to show a man dressed as General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, saluting at a weekend conference, sparking outrage online.

The visit by Inada, a state minister in charge of administrative reforms, comes less than a week after nearly 150 Japanese lawmakers paid homage at the site, which honours millions of the nation's war dead, including senior officials who were executed for war crimes.

General Tojo was among those executed for war crimes and later honoured at the Yasukuni shrine.

Last week's mass pilgrimage by parliamentarians came on the eve of a visit by US President Barack Obama, whose administration has tried to discourage visits to Yasukuni, which it views as unnecessary provocation.

China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of what they say is Japan's unwillingness to repent for its aggressive warring last century.

Troubled Canadian pop prince Justin Bieber was criticised last week after he posted a snap of himself at the shrine on his Instagram account.

The picture that surfaced on Twitter appeared to show a man dressed in period military garb saluting while standing on a campaign car for Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - sparking a backlash online.

"Does this mean the LDP tolerates this?" @hatsunoji wrote.

Said online user @okchibita: "This is not even a bad joke. I cannot believe this was done by the ruling party." The picture was believed to have been taken at a weekend conference organised by an Internet broadcaster, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - whose own nationalistic views have annoyed Japan's neighbours - had briefly attended earlier in the day.

The huge two-day event, attended by more than 120,000 people, had dozens of booths sponsored by a wide variety of organisations including political parties, gaming firms and the country's sumo association.

An LDP spokesman said he was unaware that the unidentified man was dressed to appear like Japan's wartime leader.

"If we had known that he meant to be dressed up like Tojo, we would have had second thoughts about letting him get up there," he told AFP.

A person claiming to be the man in the photo apologised on Twitter Monday and claimed he was simply dressed as a military policeman.

"There was the campaign car which people were allowed to climb on," wrote the person, identified as @vice0079. "I was guided by LDP staff."