Two Japanese Cabinet ministers have made a controversial visit to a Shinto shrine seen by many as a symbol of Japan's imperial past.
The visit Thursday to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo comes on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not expected to make the trip, out of concerns it could further damage ties with China and South Korea.
Instead, Liberal Democratic Party executive Koichi Hagiuda made an offering at the shrine on Mr. Abe's behalf.
"The (LDP) leader wanted to pass on his prayers for the people who died in the war and apologize for not making a personal visit."
The Yasukuni Shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including some convicted war criminals.
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."
South Korea and China were two of the main victims of Japan's aggression in the first half of the 20th century. They regularly protest official visits to Yasukuni.
China's state-controlled Global Times Thursday slammed Tokyo's "aggressiveness" and "extreme nationalism." It said even though Mr. Abe did not visit the shrine, he has "expressed himself well."
Prime Minister Abe, 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.
Mr. 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.
But the issue has been further complicated by Japan's more recent territorial disputes with China and South 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.
South Korea and Japan are engaged in a dispute about a Seoul-controlled island group in the Sea of Japan.