Shinzo Abe has sent a decorative tree to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the country's war dead. But, unlike in previous years, he will not risk relations with Japan's neighbors by visiting the site.
Coinciding with the start of the four-day autumn festival, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated a sacred "masakaki" tree bearing his name to the contentious war shrine.
The shrine, which is widely seen a symbol of Tokyo's militarist past, has been a source of diplomatic tension between Japan and its neighbors for several years.
But, local media report that Abe will not visit the controversial site - something he and other Japanese leaders have done regularly in past years - in light of an upcoming summit seeking to boost ties between Japan, China and South Korea.
Abe's previous visits have drawn immediate criticism from Beijing and Seoul, which suffered under Japan's military aggression in the years before and during World War II.
Both neighbors have complained that Japan has showed a lack of remorse over its wartime hostility. Tokyo insists it has made amends including war reparations.
Abe's previous visits to the Yasukuni shrine threatened Japan's relations with China and South Korea
The Yasukuni shrine honors Japan's war dead, including some senior military and political figures convicted of serious crimes in the wake of the country's Second World War defeat.
The accompanying museum also paints Japan as a frustrated liberator of Asia and a victim of the war.
Nationalists, including many Japanese MPs, maintain that the shrine is merely a place to remember millions of fallen soldiers who died for the state. Many people are set to visit the site during the four-day festival.
Abe made the ritual offering on Saturday, a day after he said he expressed his willingness to hold bilateral meetings with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The three-way regional summit, to be held in Seoul on November 1, is the leaders' first meeting since May 2012.
Park, who has been particularly critical of what she describes as Japan's lack of atonement for colonial-era abuses, said she was open to a dialogue with Abe.
Despite the ongoing shrine controversy, relations between Japan and its neighbors have thawed over the past year following recent meetings between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
nm/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)