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No Cabinet members visited Yasukuni Shrine on war anniversary

Former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada is seen after paying her respects at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

None of the members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet paid their respects to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Aug. 15, the day World War II ended in 1945, marking the first time for any member of cabinets of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led governments not to have visited the shrine on the war anniversary since 1980.

Cabinet ministers' visits to Yasukuni Shrine -- which enshrines Japan's Class-A war criminals along with the war dead -- on the war anniversary started in 1980 under then Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's administration. This year's move comes after Prime Minister Abe replaced ministers espousing conservative ideologies similar to his in an Aug. 3 Cabinet reshuffle in an effort to prioritize party unity. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, who has visited the shrine every year on Aug. 15 including during her past stints as a Cabinet member, also refrained from visiting the shrine this year.

It is also the first time that not a single member of a Cabinet visited Yasukuni Shrine on the war anniversary since the 2010-2011 administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan, the predecessor of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Tomomi Inada, fresh from her high-profile resignation as defense minister last month over the Ground Self-Defense Force peacekeeping logs scandal, paid her respects to Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, alongside members of a legislators' group she chairs. Inada declined media interviews over the visit.

After a movement to renationalize Yasukuni Shrine failed in the late 1970s, there arose a campaign to promote politicians' visits to the shrine in their official capacity. In 1980, the then Suzuki Cabinet agreed that its ministers would visit Yasukuni Shrine alongside the prime minister.

After Abe returned to power in 2012, several members of his Cabinet have made war anniversary visits to Yasukuni, and Abe himself visited the shrine in December 2013. However, Abe has since withheld from paying his respects there.

Instead, Abe has offered ritual donations to the shrine on Aug. 15 in his capacity as LDP president for five consecutive years, out of his own pocket. Masahiko Shibayama, a special aide to the LDP president, who made the donation on behalf of Abe this year, quoted Abe as telling him, "I'm sorry I can't go to the shrine, but please pay deep respects while you're there."

Internal affairs minister Noda has visited Yasukuni Shrine every year as part of what she calls a "family event," but told a press conference on Aug. 15, "I will move forward with my work as a Cabinet member without prioritizing my thoughts, as I face a host of issues to deal with."

Meanwhile, 63 members of a nonpartisan group of legislators promoting Diet members' visits to Yasukuni Shrine paid their respects there on Aug. 15, including state ministers of the Abe Cabinet.

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