Abe unlikely to visit Yasukuni Shrine during autumn festival

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine during its autumn festival, which starts Thursday, in an apparent attempt to improve strained ties with China and South Korea, a government source said Saturday.

Instead of visiting the Tokyo shrine, Abe is considering sending a "masakaki" tree, traditionally used in Shinto rituals, at his own expense just like he did in April, the source said.

The move is an attempt to appease both Japan's neighbors, who oppose his visit to the controversial shrine, and the conservative electorate, the source said, adding Abe also took into account the United States, which is concerned about a possible deterioration of relations between Japan and China as well as South Korea.

The Shinto shrine is seen by a number of Asian countries as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as it enshrines 14 Class A war criminals along with its war dead.

In a television program aired Friday, Abe declined to say whether he would visit the shrine, while a source at the premier's office said relations between Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul are not as bad as the media say.

While calling for dialogue with the Chinese and South Korean leaders, it is best if Abe doesn't visit Yasukuni Shrine, the source added.

Abe shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Bali, Indonesia earlier this week.

He has reiterated that Japan is open to dialogue despite prolonged soured relations with China and South Korea over several issues, including territorial disputes and the perception of history.

Meanwhile, three Cabinet members -- Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, and administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada -- are considering visiting the shrine during the autumn festival.

The trio visited the shrine on Aug. 15, on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II as well as during the spring festival in April.