By Elaine Lies and Tim Kelly
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine for war dead on Thursday, the anniversary of Japan's World War Two surrender, but refrained from visiting in person amid tense ties with South Korea.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged South Korea and China because the shrine honors 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals.
Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister and now special aide to Abe, made the monetary offering, called a "tamagushi-ryo", on the premier's behalf, domestic media said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment, saying it was a private matter.
"The peace and prosperity of our country is due to those heroes who gave their lives for their homeland and I express my gratitude and respect," Inada quoted Abe as saying, according to domestic media.
Abe has only visited the shrine in person once since taking office in 2012 but has regularly sent offerings on Aug. 15 and during the shrine's spring and autumn festivals.
Bitter memories of Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of Korea have long plagued ties with South Korea.
Relations between Washington's two Asia allies deteriorated after a ruling by South Korea's Supreme Court last year that Japanese companies should compensate South Koreans conscripted as forced laborers during World War Two. Tokyo says the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty normalizing ties.
The two nations this month ended each others' fast-track trade status and Tokyo on Tuesday urged caution for travelers to South Korea ahead of crucial anniversaries this week. South Korea celebrates Aug. 15 as a national day of liberation from Japanese rule.
China's relations with Japan have also long been haunted by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.
A steady stream of visitors paid their respects at Yasukuni under partly cloudy skies as temperatures soared. Groups including members of a tiny nationalist party and critics of the U.S. military presence on Japan's southern Okinawa island gathered near the entrance.
Police, some in anti-riot gear, patrolled nearby.
A sign inside the grounds said activities such as hoisting flags, demonstrating or destroying property were banned.
“The people enshrined here fought for Japan and we have come to express our gratitude and to show them our resolve to build a better Japan," said Yoshiko Matsuura, 71, a former ward assembly member from Tokyo visiting with other local politicians.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher and Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)