TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual gift to a Tokyo war shrine on Tuesday, a gesture that could anger Japan’s neighbors ahead of a visit by Mr. Abe to Washington that will put his views of history under intense scrutiny.
Mr. Abe sent a potted evergreen shrub to mark a spring festival at the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto memorial to Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War II. The sprawling shrine in central Tokyo has long been a sore spot between Japan and other Asian countries. In particular, South Korea and China, two victims of Japan’s early 20th-century empire-building, view Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s inability to fully come to terms with that past.
Their sensitivity toward Yasukuni has heightened under Mr. Abe, an outspoken conservative who has called for restoring Japan’s pride, but who is seen by many Chinese and Koreans as a nationalist trying to whitewash his nation’s militarist past. He has also angered some Korean-American and veterans groups in the United States, which have demanded that Mr. Abe more clearly acknowledge responsibility for Japan’s wartime misdeeds when he visits Washington next week.