Previous visits and offerings to the controversial Yasukuni shrine have drawn sharp rebukes from China and South Korea.

Abe's last visit to Yasukuni, in December 2013, also drew criticism from Washington.

The shrine said Abe sent "masakaki" offerings, with a name card showing his name and official title.

He sent similar offerings marking last year's spring and fall festivals at the shrine, which honors war criminals including wartime leader Hideki Tojo, among the 2.5 million war dead.

Even though Abe's offerings signal he won't be praying at the shrine during this year's spring festival, they still come at a sensitive time.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe made the gesture as a private citizen based on his personal belief, and paid for the offerings himself.

He said Abe's offerings did not represent the government's position as a whole, and brushed off concerns about any diplomatic impact.

As victims of Japan's wartime aggression, neighboring countries see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

They also see visits by Japanese political leaders as a sign of Japan's lack of remorse over its atrocities.

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