Japan defence minister Tomomi Inada will not visit Yasukuni Shrine on end-of-war anniversary

People visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine during the shrine's autumn festival in Tokyo on Oct 17, 2015.
People visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine during the shrine's autumn festival in Tokyo on Oct 17, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Japan's newly-minted defence minister Tomomi Inada will not be visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine next Monday (Aug 15), on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday that Ms Inada, 57, will be visiting Djibouti in Africa on a four-day trip starting Saturday and ending Tuesday. Japan's military Self-Defence Forces have been deployed in an anti-piracy mission in the country in the Horn of Africa.

It remains unclear, however, whether she will be sending a ritual offering to the shrine in her absence.

Ms Inada, known for her right-wing views, has been a regular visitor to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine that honours convicted Class A criminals among Japan's war dead, and is seen by China and South Korea as a sign of Japan's militarism.

She has been visiting the shrine twice a year prior to being appointed to the Cabinet by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month - once on April 28, the date Japan regained sovereignty after the war, and on Aug 15, the date of Japan's surrender.

She dithered in her initial interviews as Defence Minister, when asked by reporters if she intends to continue her habit of visiting the shrine regularly.

"It's a matter of one's heart, so I will not say if I will go or if I should or should not worship there," she had said. "I will continue to act with proper judgment, as a member of the Cabinet."

Meanwhile, Japan's Jiji News Agency reported on Thursday that Mr Abe will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine next Monday, but plans to send a ritual offering.

Mr Abe, known to be a fierce nationalist, has not visited the shrine in person since December 2013 in an attempt to avoid stoking open wartime wounds, and to mend frayed ties with Japan's neighbours China and South Korea.

Separately, newly-appointed Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura, 69, was the first member of Mr Abe's new Cabinet to visit the shrine Thursday.

He said he "prayed for Japan's peace and prosperity" and made a money offering out of his own pocket during the visit, which he had made "as an individual, a lawmaker and a Cabinet minister".

waltsim@sph.com.sg