Japan minister visits controversial shrine honoring war dead after Pearl Harbor trip

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s defense minister visited a controversial shrine to Japan’s war dead on Thursday, just after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a historic visit to Pearl Harbor, where Japan’s attack brought the United States into World War Two.

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Television footage showed a smiling Tomomi Inada in a black jacket and skirt arriving at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese who lost their lives in the country’s wars, including several leaders executed for war crimes.

Visits to the shrine by prominent Japanese officials anger neighbors China and South Korea, which consider Yasukuni a symbol of Japan’s militarism and a reminder of its wartime atrocities.

China and South Korea again voiced their disapproval on Thursday, with China saying it would make “solemn representations” to Japan.

“This not only reflects some Japanese people’s obstinately wrong view of history, it also forms a great irony with the Pearl Harbor reconciliation trip,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry.

South Korea’s defense ministry called the 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.

Chinese ties with Japan have long been strained by what Beijing see as Japanese leaders’ reluctance to atone for the country’s past. China and South Korea suffered under Japan’s sometimes brutal occupation and colonial rule before Tokyo’s defeat in 1945.

Inada joined Abe and Barack Obama on Tuesday for the first visit by a Japanese leader and a U.S. president to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the victims of the Japanese attack 75 years ago.

The Hawaii visit on Wednesday Japan time followed Obama’s May visit to Hiroshima, the first by a serving president to the spot where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb in the final days of the war.

“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,” Inada told reporters at Yasukuni.

“I visited the shrine wishing to firmly create peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective,” she said.

It was Inada’s first Yasukuni homage since the hawkish politician became defense chief in August. A regular visitor to the complex, revered by Japanese nationalists, she was visiting Japanese troops in Africa on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender, a key date for commemorations.

Abe visited Yasukuni in December 2013 but has since refrained, instead sending symbolic offerings on key memorial dates.

Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL and Jake Spring in BEIJING; Writing by William Mallard; Editing by Nick Macfie