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March, 2, 2017

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Japan defense minister visits controversial shrine honoring war dead

TOKYO -- Japan's hawkish defense minister prayed Thursday at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo the day after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a symbolic visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbor, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea.

Yasukuni Shrine honors millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.

The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism from countries such as South Korea and China, which suffered under Japan's colonialism and military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Tomomi Inada's visit was her first since taking the key defense portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.

"By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world," she told reporters.

She noted that Barack Obama — "the president of a country that dropped atomic bombs" — had gone to Hiroshima earlier this year, while Abe "voiced words to console the spirits of the dead" at Pearl Harbor, though she did not mention that Japan attacked it.

Inada made the pilgrimage the day after, in Japan time, Abe and Obama's joint visit to the site of the Japanese military's Dec. 7, 1941 air assault on the navy base in Hawaii that drew the United States into World War II. Inada is a close confidante of Abe, who said on a golf course that he had "no comment" on her action.

The visit, which Jiji Press and Nippon TV reported appeared to be the first by a defense chief since 2002, drew the ire of China and South Korea.

It is "deeply ironic after the so-called Pearl Harbor reconciliation tour," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.

"It will only make the people of the world more on-guard against Japan's actions and intentions."

South Korea summoned a senior official from the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest.

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