Akie Abe Visits War Shrine Days After Husband Stayed Away

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Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Photographer: Antonio Calanni/AP Images

The wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a Tokyo war shrine, days after he stayed away from the controversial place of worship on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Akie Abe posted a picture of herself standing next to a senior priest at Yasukuni shrine on her Facebook page Tuesday. She wrote that it felt different to the last time she paid her respects in May because it came after she went to the Chiran airbase in southern Japan, a departure point for kamikaze pilots during the war.

Akie may have visited the shrine to appease her husband’s nationalist base after he made a statement that noted the “immeasurable damage and suffering” that Japan inflicted on neighboring countries. While her previous Yasukuni trip didn’t draw any public expressions of anger from China or South Korea, Tuesday’s visit comes amid reports that the prime minister is considering a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing next month.

“It appears that Abe is having his wife do what would be awkward for him do,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan. “Thus it averts a political row while reassuring his base.”

Rather than making a personal visit on Aug. 15., Shinzo Abe made a donation to the shrine that honors millions of Japanese war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals. Criticism by China and South Korea of his statement the previous day was muted, despite Abe trying to draw a line under official apologies for the war by saying Japan shouldn’t be expected to continually apologize for a conflict that ended 70 years ago.

Abe’s own visit to Yasukuni in December 2013 led to a deterioration in relations with China and South Korea and prompted a rebuke from the U.S.