TOKYO Kyodo Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine that is long at the heart of diplomatic frictions with China and South Korea, which regard it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, a source familiar with the matter said.
The masakaki offering on the occasion of the spring festival of the Tokyo shrine from Thursday comes as Kishida, seen as a liberal-leaning politician in the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to refrain from paying a visit.
Kishida sent a similar offering for the shrine's autumn festival shortly after becoming prime minister last October.
Yasukuni honors convicted war criminals and millions of war dead. Past visits to shrines by Japanese prime ministers, including Shinzo Abe and lawmakers, have sparked criticism from China and South Korea, where memories of Japan's militarism before and during World War II run deep.
Kishida hopes to improve ties with South Korea under incoming President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is calling for a future-oriented approach.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul remain strained over issues stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 -- 1945. Yoon is sending a delegation from Sunday to Japan for talks with lawmakers, diplomats and business leaders ahead of his inauguration in May.
Japan and China are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties this year. The Sino-Japanese relations have been frayed over wartime history and the sovereignty of the Japan-owned Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Beijing claims the uninhabited islets it calls Diaoyu.
In 1978, Yasukuni added former wartime prime minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class-A war criminals to those elevated to the status of gods at the shrine, sparking controversy in Japan and abroad.