A visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo by a high ranking Japanese minister and more than 160 of his fellow lawmakers this week has triggered a hostile response from neighbors South Korea and China.
South Korea and China have characterized the visit as an insult to the peace the three nations accomplished following World War II.
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The Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to those who lost their lives in service to Japan since the end of the 19th century.
Among those honored at the memorial are several former Japanese military officers who were convicted by an Allied tribunal after WWII for committing war crimes against civilians in South Korea and China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not among the politicians who visited the controversial site. However, he did send an offering to the shrine for the third year in a row, marking the end of Japan's autumn festival, Reuters reported
In response to the visit, China summoned Tokyo's ambassador in Beijing, Reuters noted.
"The Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol and spiritual tool of Japanese militarism," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a news conference in Beijing.
"It consecrates monstrous crimes committed against Asia's victimized peoples, including those in China, by 14 Class A war criminals," Chunying added. "This is a major matter of principle bearing on the foundation of Sino-Japanese relations."
South Korea also criticized the actions of Japanese lawmakers.
"We urge Japanese politicians to show speech and actions based on humble introspection and reflection of the past that will help build trust with its neighboring countries," the South Korean ministry said in a statement.
Japanese Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, the senior-most lawmaker to visit the site this week, said he went "in a private capacity," adding that his grandfather is honored there and doesn't feel it "should become a diplomatic issue."
Another Japanese politician who made a visit to the site this week was Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.
"I think that it's only natural to pray for the repose of the souls of people who have given their precious lives for the nation," Kato told reporters at a news conference over the controversy.
The Yasukuni Shrine honors more than 2.4 million individuals who died serving Japan, starting with the Boshin War of 1867 through to the end of World War II in 1945.
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