Japan minister visits controversial war shrine
Japanese cabinet minister Yoshitaka Shindo leaves the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, on January 1, 2014
Yoshitaka Shindo, the minister of internal affairs and communication, visited Yasukuni shrine on New Year's Day as thousands of people attended Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to pray for good fortune in 2014, Jiji and Kyodo news agencies said.
Last Thursday Abe made his first visit as premier to the shrine, which honours Japan's war dead including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.
China and South Korea see it as a brutal reminder of Tokyo's imperialist past and wartime aggression, and its failure to repent for its history.
"I have paid the visit with feelings of reverence for people who lost their lives in war," said Shindo, a grandson of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who led the Japanese imperial army in the fierce battle with US forces on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima in the closing days of World War II.
"I have renewed my wish for peace, hoping that the war shall not be repeated again," the 55-year-old told reporters at the shrine.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed Beijing's "strong protest" over the visit, calling it "yet another provocative act" by a Japanese cabinet member.
"We solemnly urge Japan to reflect on history and change direction," Hua said in a statement on the ministry website.
Abe, known for his nationalist views, came to power in December 2012 in an election landslide.
He previously served as premier from 2006 to 2007 without visiting Yasukuni after his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's repeated pilgrimages there saw ties with Beijing and Seoul plunge to their worst in decades.
Apart from Abe last week, prime ministers since Koizumi refrained from going to the shrine while in office. But conservative lawmakers regularly offer prayers there for the war dead.
"I paid the visit in my personal capacity as a personal matter of my heart," Shindo said
He visited the shrine at least three times last year including on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, Kyodo News said.
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