Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada went to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine (pictured above) in Tokyo on Thursday, two days after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a highly symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor.
The shrine honors Japanese who lost their lives in the country's wars, including several leaders who were convicted of war crimes and executed.
"This year the president of the country that dropped the atomic bomb visited Hiroshima, and yesterday the prime minister made remarks of consolation at Pearl Harbor," Tomomi Inada told reporters at Yasukuni.
Inada added that she visited the shrine "wishing to firmly create peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective."
It was her first visit to the shrine since becoming defense minister.
Visits by top Japanese leaders to Yasukuni often anger neighbors China and South Korea, which consider the shrine a symbol of Japan's wartime atrocities.
In a statement following Inada's appearance at Yasukuni, South Korea's Defense Ministry called her visit "deplorable."
"We express deep concern and regret over Japan's defense minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine, even as our government has been emphasizing the need to create a new, forward-looking South Korea-Japan relationship," it said in a statement.
The visit came just two days after Inada accompanied Abe to Hawaii's Pearl Harbor where the Japanese leader laid a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial along with US President Barack Obama. During the trip, Abe offered his condolences to those who died in a surprise bombing by Japanese planes in 1941.
The visit marked the first time a Japanese leader and a US president jointly commemorated victims at Pearl Harbor. The trip followed Obama's visit to Hiroshima in May, where the US dropped the first atomic bomb in the final days of World War II in August 1945.
Abe has avoided visiting Yasukuni after a December 2013 visit infuriated China and South Korea and garnered a diplomatic rebuke from the US. He has chosen instead to send gifts or religious ornaments rather than visit in person.
rs/cmk (AFP, Reuters)