Japanese lawmakers visit Tokyo war shrine

Tokyo - Dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited a Tokyo war shrine on Friday in a ritual sure to anger China and South Korea, where memories of Japan's military and colonial record remain raw.

The capital's Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of Japanese dead, including several senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.

The leafy central Tokyo shrine to Japan's Shinto religion has for decades been a lightning rod for criticism by countries that suffered under Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

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

Abe and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to burial grounds such as Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

"We are still counting the number of parliament members who just returned from the shrine, but the number will probably surpass 100," an official working for upper house member Toshiei Mizuochi told AFP.

It was not immediately clear how many of the lawmakers that visited Yasukuni for its annual spring festival were from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Kyodo News agency, however, said that no members of Abe's cabinet took part.

The visit came a day after Abe made a ritual offering to the shrine.

Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned him a diplomatic rebuke from the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.

He has since refrained from going and reaction by China and South Korea to the latest visit by the parliamentarians is expected to be muted as Japan has taken steps over the past 18 months or so to improve relations with both countries and Abe has held summit meetings with their leaders.