has urged Emperor Akihito to pay his respects at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine and said Chinese and South Korean criticism of visits there by the prime minister is counterproductive.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso is known for his hawkish views, and his latest controversial remarks in a speech in Nagoya on Saturday are likely to further provoke Japan's neighbors.
The foreign minister called for a resumption of imperial visits to the Tokyo religious site, where the souls of 2.5 million war dead are enshrined.
Recalling that Japan's soldiers died with shouts of "Banzai" (long life) for the emperor and not for the prime minister, Aso says it would be
best for the current emperor to pray for their souls.
Emperor Akihito has not visited the shrine since ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne. His late father, Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa, made his final visit in 1975.
The foreign minister also suggested the Beijing government's criticism of visits by Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine is likely to make them even more committed to visiting the Shinto war shrine.
Aso, in his speech, said it is like telling someone "'Don't smoke cigarettes'; it actually makes you want to smoke." Thus, he added, it would be better for China and other critics of the visits to keep quiet.
says he visits Yasukuni to pray for world peace and honor the souls of those who died for Japan.
Some of Japan's neighbors, especially China and the two Koreas, regard the shrine as a symbol of Japan's 20th Century militarism because convicted war criminals are among those honored there and, they say, the shrine's museum glorifies Japan's colonialism.
There has been no immediate reaction from neighboring countries, most of which are currently celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Aso, appointed foreign minister three months ago, is seen as one of the leading contenders to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi in September.
On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, another oft-mentioned candidate to be the next prime minister, criticized China and South Korea, for refusing to hold summits with Japan because of the issue of Mr. Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine.