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Japan's defense minister visits Yasukuni Shrine

  • Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, front right, visits Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, in Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)

    Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, front right, visits Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, in Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visits Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, in Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)

    Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visits Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, in Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visited a Tokyo shrine that honors convicted war criminals among the nation's war dead on Thursday, drawing a rapid rebuke from neighboring South Korea.

Inada's visit to Yasukuni Shrine came just two days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and offered condolences to those who died in the Japanese attack there in 1941.

"Regardless of differences in historical views, regardless of whether they fought as enemies or allies, I believe any country can understand that we wish to express gratitude, respect and gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for their countries," Inada said.

Japan's Asian neighbors harbor bitter memories of the country's atrocities before and during World War II, when it colonized or invaded much of the region.

So visits by top Japanese leaders to the shrine often draw complaints from countries such as China and South Korea that see them as attempts to whitewash that history of wartime aggression. After drawing complaints when he visited Yasukuni in December 2013, Abe has since instead sent gifts of money and religious ornaments.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry said it was deplorable that Inada visited a shrine that "beautifies past colonial invasions and invasive war and honors war criminals."

The Defense Ministry issued a similar statement, expressing "serious concern and regret."

The visit to Yasukuni was Inada's first since she became defense minister. She has visited the shrine on other occasions.