The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is meant to house the spirits of millions of Japan's war dead -- including more than 1,000 military figures who were convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal following World War II. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, April 21 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent an offering to a controversial war shrine on Thursday and former leader Shinzo Abe visited in person, drawing an angry response from South Korea, which views the shrine as an unapologetic symbol of Japan's aggression during World War II.
Kishida sent a ritual offering for the two-day springtime festival at Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto shrine in Tokyo that commemorates millions of Japan's war dead -- including numerous figures who were convicted of war crimes.
He is not planning to visit in person, Kyodo News reported.
Abe, who stepped down as prime minister in 2020, paid his respects at Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday with lawmaker Sanae Takaichi, the hawkish policy leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Abe's visit to the shrine in 2013 when he was prime minister sparked outrage in South Korea and China, which also maintains a deep wartime animosity with Japan.
South Korea immediately expressed regret over the gestures on Thursday.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen during a previous visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors about 2.5 million Japanese war dead. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
"The government expresses its deep disappointment and regret that Japan's responsible leadership once again made offerings or visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan's past wars of aggression and enshrines war criminals," South Korea's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The ministry urged Japan to "face history" and show "humble and genuine reflection" over the past.
South Korean foreign minister nominee Park Jin told reporters that the shrine "beautifies" Japan's imperialism and called on Tokyo to demonstrate contrition.
"Japan should face up to its past history, and it will have to show humble remorse and a humble attitude," Park said, according to Yonhap.
The Shinto shrine is meant to house the spirits of millions of Japan's war dead -- including more than 1,000 military figures who were convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal following World War II. Among them are wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class A war criminals.
The gestures came as South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is preparing to send a delegation to Japan on Sunday for policy discussions.
Yoon, who takes office in May, has said that he's hoping to improve relations with Japan on a "forward-looking" basis.
Ties between Tokyo and Seoul, strained at the best of times, have grown particularly fractious in recent years over lawsuits filed in South Korean courts by victims of forced labor and sexual slavery during Japan's 1910-45 occupation of Korea.
Last month, South Korea lodged a complaint over new Japanese history textbooks, claiming that they whitewash Tokyo's wartime atrocities.