TOKYO Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead by the end of the year, Japanese media reported on Sunday, citing an aide in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Such a visit would almost certainly anger Asian victims of Japan's past aggression. Relations with China and South Korea are also strained over territorial disputes.
The media reports came two days after a Japanese minister and more than 100 lawmakers visited the shrine, prompting China to accuse Japan of undermining ties.
Another minister, cabinet member Keiji Furuya, visited the shrine on Sunday, the last day of the shrine's autumn festival, Kyodo news agency reported.
Furuya's ministerial responsibilities include Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.
On Thursday, Abe made his third ritual offering to the shrine since returning to office in December but he has so far not visited in person to avoid further upsetting China and South Korea.
As well as Japan's war dead, Yasukuni also honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, making it a painful reminder to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression in the 20th century.
Abe has said he regretted not visiting the shrine in person when he first served as prime minister in 2006-07.
Kyodo quoted Koichi Hagiuda, a lawmaker and aide to Abe, as saying Abe's position on the shrine had not changed.
Hagiuda told reporters he thinks Abe would visit the shrine within the first year of his current government - in other words, by December.
"Some people say he should visit the shrine sometime while he is prime minister, but a visit to the shrine should be made at least once a year," Kyodo quoted Hagiuda as saying.
Kyodo also said Abe had told reporters on Saturday he still regretted not visiting the shrine during his earlier term as prime minister.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Paul Tait)