Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to a shrine for war dead on Monday, the anniversary of Japan's World War Two defeat, but did not visit the shrine seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Tokyo's wartime militarism, an aide said.
Visits to Yasukuni Shrine by top Japanese politicians outrage China and South Korea because it honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead.
Abe has not visited in person since December 2013, when he said he did so to show respect for those who died for their country.
Ties between China and Japan, Asia's two largest economies, have also been strained in recent days as a growing number of Chinese coastguard and other government ships sailed near disputed islets in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Visitors bow their heads towards the Yasukuni Shrine ahead of Monday's anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two in Tokyo, Japan, August 14, 2016.
"This was out of respect to those who gave their lives for the country," said Yasutoshi Nishimura, an aide to Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who presented the offering in Abe's name as LDP president rather than as prime minister.
Other lawmakers who visited the shrine included deputy chief cabinet secretary Koichi Hagiuda and Shinjiro Koizumi, often tipped as a future prime minister.
New defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who has been accused by China of recklessly misrepresenting history after she declined to say whether Japanese troops massacred civilians in China during World War Two, is visiting troops in Djibouti and would not be able to attend as she usually has.