TOKYO • A Japanese Cabinet minister offered prayers at a controversial Tokyo war shrine yesterday, shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a highly symbolic visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbour.
Mr Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of the reconstruction of northern Japan after the massive 2011 tsunami, visited the Yasukuni Shrine in the afternoon.
Public broadcaster NHK showed Mr Imamura throwing coins into a wooden box as an offering and bowing low at the shrine.
"I reported about this past year's work, expressed gratitude and prayed for our country's peace and prosperity," he said.
Mr Imamura said his visit "has nothing to do with" Mr Abe's trip to Pearl Harbour, and the timing is "a coincidence", according to NHK and other Japanese media.
But Professor Haruko Satou, who teaches international politics at Osaka University, told Agence France- Presse: "His real intention behind the visit is unknown, but it is natural to think that he chose the same day when Prime Minister Abe visited Pearl Harbour."
Mr Imamura's action is "likely to have a negative impact on Japan's diplomacy and offset the positive image of Abe's historic visit", added Prof Satou.
The minister also visited the shrine on Aug 11, several days before the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.
Cabinet members often journey to the leafy religious site at that time and during the country's spring and autumn festivals.
It has, for decades, been a flashpoint for criticism by countries such as China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Mr Abe himself has avoided visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in an apparent attempt to prevent causing controversy, after going there three years ago to celebrate his first anniversary as prime minister.