South Korea and China have slammed visits to a Tokyo war shrine by Japanese politicians including opposition leader Shinzo Abe. Seoul urged Tokyo to "humbly" own up to Japanese colonial rule from 1910 until 1945.
Abe, who is running for prime minister, was among 70 Japanese politicians who visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million dead and 14 leaders convicted of war crimes.
Visits to Yasukuni have often outraged South Korea and China, where elder generations feel that Japan failed to atone fully for its pre-1945 militarist march through Asia.
Abe, when previously prime minister, enraged South Koreans in 2007 by denying the Japanese military's direct involvement in forcing women, many from the peninsula, into sexual slavery during World War II.
Face history, says Seoul
In Seoul, a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman urged Japanese leaders to "have the courage to face history and humbly accept historical facts … in order for Japan to become a sincere partner to its neighbors."
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman condemned Abe's visit and urged Japan to "handle relevant issues in a responsible way."
China's state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported that Abe's visit had "dealt another blow to the already fragile Sino-Japanese relations."
Japan has in recent months been at loggerheads with South Korea and China over islands.
Cabinet ministers visit shrine
Among the shrine visitors in Tokyo on Thursday were Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and Disaster Management Minister Mikio Shimoji.
Absent was Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who had previously told his Democratic Party Cabinet to stay away from the shrine.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said ministers had visited in their "private capacity" as a matter of "personal belief."
Noda, whose government took office in 2009, recently promised a national vote "soon" in exchange for opposition support on legislation such as a sales tax hike aimed at reducing Japan's debt burden.
Opinion surveys indicate that if an election were held today, Noda's Democratic Party would lose by a wide margin to Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.
ipj/pfd (dpa, AFP, AP)