* In Japanese, "yasu" means peace and "kuni" means country.
* Established in 1869 and funded by the government until 1945, Yasukuni is dedicated to the nation's 2.5 million war dead, including about 1,000 convicted war criminals. No human remains are housed there.
* The shrine played a central role in the wartime state Shinto religion, which mobilized the population to fight in the name of a divine emperor.
* Among those honored are 14 World War Two leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as "Class A" war criminals, including prime minister Hideki Tojo. Seven of these were executed by hanging.
* The Class A criminals were listed as gods at Yasukuni in a secret ceremony in 1978.
* A museum in the shrine's grounds depicts the Pacific war as one Japan was forced to fight in self-defense. It has been criticized for ignoring the atrocities Imperial troops committed in Asia.
* The names of about 27,800 men from Taiwan and more than 21,000 Koreans killed while serving with Imperial forces are recorded at Yasukuni, shrine officials say. Some relatives want their names removed from lists of those honored there.
* Visits by Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, elicited sharp responses from China, which was invaded by Japan before World War Two and partially occupied until 1945, and from North and South Korea, which Japan colonized from 1910 until 1945.
* Japanese lawmakers say their visits are intended not to glorify war but to honor the war dead and pray for peace.
* Abe stayed away from the shrine during his short first term as prime minister, but later said he regretted not paying his respects as premier. He visited the shrine after becoming president of the ruling party last September but has not visited as prime minister, though he made an offering to the shrine in April and was set to make another on Thursday.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Richard Pullin)