Japan's prime minister, ignoring warnings from his country's neighbors, has made good on an old campaign pledge to visit a controversial war shrine on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II 61 years ago.
The visit to the Yasukuni Shrine was Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's sixth since he took office, but the first on the anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender in the Second World War.
Mr. Koizumi has long pledged to visit the Tokyo shrine on the anniversary. Yasukuni honors millions of Japanese war dead, including 14 men convicted of committing of war crimes during World War II.
The visit immediately prompted harsh protests from China and South Korea, which experienced brutal Japanese invasions and occupations in the early part of the last century.
The prime minister was defiant about the criticism.
Mr. Koizumi rejects the protests from China and South Korea. He says that Beijing and Seoul should give up their demand that the shrine visits end before they will hold summit meetings.
Anger in Beijing and Seoul over what they see as rising Japanese militarism and whitewashing of its wartime atrocities has led both governments to cancel summit meetings with Japan. The issue has complicated relations in a number of areas, including efforts to settle old territorial disputes among the three countries.
The prime minister Tuesday reiterated his stance that he visits the controversial shrine to pray for peace and does not pay tribute to the enshrined war criminals.
He added that he sees nothing wrong with a government leader making personal visits because they are an exercise of religious freedom and do not violate the constitutional separation of religion and state.
A museum glorifying Japan's 20th century expansionism also sits on the grounds of Yasukuni. Critics say it distorts historical facts and ignores the suffering of the countries Japan colonized.
There also is domestic criticism of the visits. Takenori Kanzaki heads the New Komei Party, the minority partner in the government with Mr. Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party. Kanzaki says it is regrettable that the prime minister made the visit on such a historic anniversary, and says he has repeatedly urged Mr. Koizumi not to go to the shrine.
Mr. Koizumi steps down next month after five years in office. His expected successor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, is known for his hawkish views on Japan's past and its pacifist constitution, but has not said whether he will visit Yasukuni if he becomes prime minister. He reportedly made a secret visit in April.