The Tokyo shrine honours Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including some executed and declared war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
 
Visits to the shrine by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe's predecessor, was a source of diplomatic tension with China and South Korea.
 
Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister, said he did not expect any diplomatic fallout as a result of Abe's gesture.
 
"I don't think it really matters," he said.
 
China's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
 
Mending ties
 
Abe has worked hard to mend relations with China that were ruptured by Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni, a visit he has avoided making since taking office.
 
Abe, right, hosted Wen Jiabao in Tokyo last
month in a sign of warming relations [Reuters]
Beijing has repeatedly pressed him not to visit it as a demonstration of Japan's remorse for its militaristic past.
 
Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a government spokesman, acknowledged the media reports but said he had not heard directly from Abe about the visit.
 
"The government will refrain from commenting on a matter that involves the thoughts and feelings of the prime minister as a private citizen," he added.
 
Abe has regularly prayed there in the past and reportedly made a secret trip as chief cabinet secretary just before the shrine's main spring festival last year.
 
Abe, who has kept mum on whether he will visit as prime minister, has reportedly said he will stay away from the shrine until at least July in a bid to improve ties with China.
 
Last month, Abe hosted a visit to Japan by Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, signalling a warming in relations.