Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday sent a cash donation to a controversial war shrine as the country marked the anniversary of its defeat in World War II.
Yasukuni Shrine honours about 2.5 million dead, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country's wars since the late 19th century.
But it is contentious for also commemorating senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Abe, a staunch nationalist who wants to see Japan's pacifist constitution amended, visited the shrine in December 2013, but has stayed away since.
His only visit as prime minister sparked fury in China and South Korea, and even earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.
A member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said Abe had sent the monetary offering this year in his capacity as president of the party, not as prime minister. He made a similar donation last year.
His decision not to attend the shrine again this year comes as Tokyo has sought cooperation with Beijing and Seoul over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
Pyongyang last week threatened to test-fire missiles toward the US Pacific island territory of Guam, after US President Donald Trump warned North Korea of "fire and fury".
Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader, said early Tuesday he would hold off on the planned missile launch.
- Painful reminders -
Masahiko Shibayama, a party aide to Abe who made the donation on his behalf, said at the shrine that it came from Abe's personal funds.
"Upon direction from LDP President Abe, I offered my condolences to the ancestors who sacrificed their lives in the war and reaffirmed my commitment to eternal peace," Shibayama told reporters.
"President Abe said he's sorry for not visiting the shrine," Shibayama said.
Lawmakers, mostly conservative, say pilgrimages to the shrine are a chance to console the spirits of the dead and pray for peace. But North and South Korea and China consider them painful reminders of Japanese colonialism and invasion.
Some lawmakers, though apparently no members of Abe's cabinet, visited the shrine Tuesday.
Among them were LDP member and former defence minister Tomomi Inada, noted for her nationalist views. The close Abe ally and onetime protege resigned as defence minister late last month over a scandal at the ministry.
Tuesday marks the 72nd anniversary of Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945.
An official annual ceremony commemorating the end of the war was also held Tuesday inside a Tokyo arena and was attended by Abe as well as Emperor Akihito.
"Our country has consistently hated war and cherished peace after the war," Abe said at the sombre ceremony.
"We will maintain this firm policy at all times by humbly facing history," he said.
The 83-year-old emperor, whose plan to abdicate within three years was approved by parliament earlier this year, expressed "deep remorse", saying he hopes the tragedy of war will not be repeated.
Tokyo, Japan | AFP