A day before the arrival of US President Barack Obama, more than 140 Japanese lawmakers and a cabinet minister visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Tuesday morning.

Interior Minister Yoshitaka Shindo and the lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well as the opposition camp offered prayers at the war memorial that honours the spirits of Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War II.

Mr. Shindo visited the shrine earlier this month. Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals, went on Sunday.

The lawmakers offered prayers at the Yasukuni Shrine to mark the spring festival.

Visits by political leaders to the shrine infuriate neighbouring Asian countries, especially China and South Korea, which see it as glorifying Japan’s wartime aggression.

On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine, drawing criticism from China and South Korea. The premier himself did not visit it.

His move came just two days before Mr. Obama kicks off a three-day visit to Japan on Wednesday.

However, his visit to the shrine in late December caused an international outcry as the United States issued a statement saying, it was “disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours.” The United States has also expressed concern about strained relations between Japan and South Korea, its closest allies in the region, over a territorial spat and differing perceptions of history amid a growing threat of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and China’s military expansion.

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