TOKYO • Tokyo says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was acting in a private capacity when he sent a ritual offering to a shrine for Japan's war dead, seen as a symbol of the country's past militarism by many in Asia. China, however, has said he was wrong to do so.
Mr Abe last Saturday sent a masakaki ceremonial tree to mark the annual autumn festival at Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
And on Sunday, Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi visited it.
"I am aware of media reports that Prime Minister Abe sent masakaki, but the action was done as a private individual, so I don't think it's something the government should comment on," said government spokesman Yoshihide Suga. "I think it's a globally common act to give prayers to those who gave their lives for their country."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying noted that the shrine also honours war criminals. Fourteen Japanese convicted as war criminals after World War II are also enshrined at Yasukuni.
"China has consistently resolutely opposed these mistaken acts by important Japanese politicians. We urge Japan to face up to and deeply reflect on the history of militarism," she told a news briefing.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry on Sunday also denounced Mr Abe's offering, saying the repeated offerings and visits by ministers have "no difference from glorifying Japan's past colonisation and war of aggression" and run "counter to our efforts to improve" bilateral ties.
Mr Abe's offering came as China and South Korea are arranging a trilateral summit with Japan, the first leaders' meeting since May 2012.
Japanese media said the talks would be on Nov 1 in Seoul.
A December 2013 visit by Mr Abe to Yasukuni also angered China and South Korea.