In the morning of December 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went to Yasukuni Shrine where the war-dead, including those found guilty by the Tokyo tribunal and executed after the World War II, are enshrined.
Nikkei Shinbun says Abe's decision was in part based on the urging from the politicians from LDP's conservative wing (Mr. Abe's base) who concluded that it was impossible to placate China no matter what, as China unilaterally declared the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over Senkaku Islands.
Then, FNN (Fuji News Network), one of Japanese TV network, reports (12/26/2013) that Abe's visit was in defiance of the strong US objection:
Prime Minister Abe to visit Yasukuni Shrine, the US objected as "harming the US-Japan relationship"
Prime Minister Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine in Kudan Kita in Tokyo on December 26, one year anniversary of his administration. FNN has found that the US strongly objected to the visit, telling prime minister's advisor Eto that the visit would "harm the US-Japan relationship" when Eto visited the US for consultation in November.
Mr. Eto went to the US in mid November to meet with key officials including Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs [Daniel] Russel over the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni.
At that time, [FNN learned that] the US strongly opposed the visit, saying "President Obama will not be positive about it", "It will harm Japan's reputation, resulting in lessening the influence of Japan in Asia."
There were worries that the visit would worsen the relationship with Korea. It would also give China an excuse to insist that Japan is causing the tension to rise, putting China in a better position.
Since [PM Abe] visited the shrine despite the objection from the US, there are worries that this may negatively affect the US-Japan relationship even as Japan has important issues including TPP (Transpacific Partnership) and revising the guidelines [for defense cooperation] between Japan and the US.
When they visited Japan in October, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and State Secretary John Kerry went to Chidorigafuchi instead, a strong hint that the US would expect the Abe administration to start de-emphasizing the controversial Yasukuni.
AFP has Abe's comment:
Tokyo (AFP) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday his visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine was a pledge that Japan would not go to war again and was not intended to hurt Chinese or South Koreans.
"I chose this day to report (to enshrined spirits) what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war," he told reporters at the shrine.
"I am aware that, because of misunderstandings, some people criticise a visit to Yasukuni shrine as an act of worshipping war criminals, but I made my visit to pledge to create an era where people will never suffer from catastrophe in war," Abe said.
"I have no intention at all to hurt the feelings of Chinese or South Korean people."
A Chinese foreign ministry official condemned his visit as "absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people".
By the way, how many "war criminals" are enshrined in Yasukuni?
14, out of 2,466,532 war dead since the Boshin War (1868-69) that toppled the Tokugawa Shogunate and ushered in the Meiji era of imperial Japan supported by the winners of the war (Choshu, Satsuma).
Kyodo News reports that the US Embassy in Japan issued a statement saying the US is disappointed. There's nothing on the US Embassy website, but the tweet by the Embassy Press Office has a link to the statement:
December 26, 2013
Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors.
The United States hopes that both Japan and its neighbors will find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote cooperation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability.
We take note of the Prime Minister’s expression of remorse for the past and his reaffirmation of Japan's commitment to peace.
The US Embassy has the provisional Japanese translation of the statement, which seems, to me, overly harsh by selecting the particular ending pattern for the sentences.