A nonpartisan group of lawmakers on Friday visited the controversial war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo ahead of its annual spring festival.
The shrine has been a source of friction with Asian countries that suffered from Japan's militarism during World War II as it honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals along with millions of war dead.
The group of 76 lawmakers was drawn from ruling and opposition party members of Japan's lower and upper houses with a combined 707 seats. Among senior government officials, Shinsuke Okuno, senior vice internal affairs minister, Masahisa Sato, senior vice foreign minister and Toshiei Mizuochi, senior vice education minister who heads the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, visited the shrine.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected forgo a visit in person to the Shinto shrine during the three-day festival from Saturday. He last visited the shrine in December 2013, infuriating China and South Korea.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda told reporters Friday that they do not plan to visit the shrine for the spring festival.
"Especially at a time when Japan is faced with troubles both at home and abroad, I want the prime minister to visit Yasukuni and steer the country in the way that would not disgrace the names (of the war dead)," Hidehisa Otsuji, former vice president of the House of Councillors who heads the group, said at a press conference after the visit.
The group regularly visits Yasukuni for spring and autumn festivals in April and October, regarded as the shrine's most important events, as well as on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.