Two Japanese Cabinet ministers have visited a controversial Shinto shrine that honors the country's war dead, prompting an angry reaction from South Korea and China.
Public visits by Japanese officials to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine regularly draw ire from Seoul and Beijing, which were two of the main victims of Japan's aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
China summoned Japan's ambassador to protest the visit. Beijing's foreign ministry said the move "seriously harms the feelings" of the Chinese people.
Korean President Park Geun-hye called on Tokyo to face up to history and take "sincere measures" to alleviate the pain of those who are scarred by history.
Thursday's visit came on the anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender in World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided against a visit on the anniversary, out of concerns it could further worsen ties with Japan's neighbors. But he did send an aide to deliver an offering at the shrine.
"I asked my special aide [Koichi] Hagiuda to make the offering on my behalf with a feeling of gratitude and respect for those who fought and gave their precious lives for their country," Abe said.
The prime minister, who is known for his hawkish foreign policy, has said in the past that he regrets not visiting Yasukuni during his first term in 2006.
The Yasukuni Shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including some convicted war criminals from WWII. Abe and others have argued that it should not be controversial for Japanese leaders to honor the country's fallen soldiers. He also points out that Tokyo has apologized for its past crimes.
Keiji Furuya, a Cabinet minister who paid respects at the shrine Thursday, said such visits should not be seen as a provocation. "Paying homage to the war dead is a purely domestic matter and it's not for other countries to criticize, use or intervene in these matters," Furuya said.
The issue has been further complicated by Japan's more recent territorial disputes with China and Korea. Tokyo-Beijing relations have plummeted because of a recent flare up in a dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Abe has called for dialogue with China over the issue. But such efforts have not progressed.