TOKYO --Dozens of Japanese lawmakers, including a government minister, visited a controversial war shrine on Friday, drawing protests from China and South Korea which see it as a painful reminder of Tokyo's aggressive past.
Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for also enshrining senior World War II military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi and 95 other members of parliament visited the Shinto religious facility in central Tokyo to mark the start of a three-day spring festival -- roughly the same as last year's figure.
Lawmakers, mostly conservative, say the pilgrimages are a chance to console the spirits of the dead and pray for peace. But North and South Korea and China consider them painful reminders of Japanese colonialism and invasion during the early 20th century.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul to cooperate in countering the growing security threat from Pyongyang, did not visit the shrine but sent an offering in the form of a sacred tree.
South Korea's foreign ministry said the visits and offerings were "deeply worrying and regrettable" while China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Tokyo should "face up to" its "history of aggression".
Abe has avoided the shrine since going in 2013. That visit sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and even earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States. (AFP)