China and South Korea swiftly denounced Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's latest visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Mr. Koizumi has visited the shrine honoring Japan's war dead each year during his tenure as prime minister, but this is the first time he has done so on the anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender in World War II.
Visits by top Japanese officials to the Yasukuni Shrine are a regular lightning rod for criticism from South Korea and China. Both nations accuse Japan of not fully acknowledging or apologizing for its actions during World War II and they say the Yasukuni visits glorify Japan's militaristic past.
Millions of Japanese war dead are enshrined at Yasukuni, including 14 men convicted of war crimes committed during World War II.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Tuesday says ending the high profile Yasukuni visits would help ease Korean anger.
"Japan must repent sincerely and prove clearly it will not repeat its past wrongdoing by translating apologies into action," he said
In South Korea, August 15 is celebrated as Liberation Day - a holiday marking the end of 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. Speaking during a Liberation Day ceremony, President Roh urged Japan to resolve several outstanding war-related disputes with South Korea, including compensation for Korean women who were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers and concerns that Japanese textbooks whitewash its aggression in the early 20th century.
Following his Yasukuni visit, Mr. Koizumi expressed remorse for Japan's wartime actions, but the apology did little to appease his critics.
In Beijing, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing summoned the Japanese ambassador to a news conference where Li denounced Mr. Koizumi's visit to the shrine.
"Prime Minister Koizumi has ignored strong opposition from international society, neighboring Asian countries, and the Japanese people, by still visiting this shrine which venerates war criminals," he noted. "As a representative of the Chinese government and people, I express strong anger and denounce this severely."
Outside Japan's embassy in Beijing, about 30 protesters displayed photos of war casualties and shouted slogans denouncing Japan.
Protesters shouted, "blood debt should be paid back by blood" and "Japan should compensate for its war crimes." The peaceful demonstration lasted about 20 minutes.
The protest was much smaller than the rallies by thousands of Chinese in April 2005, when Japan approved a history textbook that China said glossed over Tokyo's aggression in Asia.
Japan's relationship with South Korea and China in recent years has been prickly, strained not only by Japan's attitude toward its wartime history, but also tensions over North Korea and old territorial disputes.