TOKYO: Two Japanese ministers were among lawmakers who paid their respects at a Tokyo war shrine Thursday, a day after the opposition leader angered Asian neighbours by visiting the controversial sanctuary.
Dozens of parliamentarians were at Yasukuni Shrine, an AFP journalist witnessed, as part of celebrations for Japan's autumn festival.
Among the cross-party group were transport minister Yuichiro Hata of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and postal reform minister Mikio Shimoji of the DPJ's junior coalition partner, the People's New Party.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has stayed away from the shrine and previously told his cabinet to do the same. His administration Thursday sought to distance itself from the visit.
"A visit in a private capacity is a matter of the personal belief of individuals," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said, without elaboration.
The Shinto shrine in central Tokyo honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals from World War II.
Visits to the shrine by government ministers and high-profile figures spark outrage in China and on the Korean peninsula, where many feel Japan has failed to atone for its brutal aggression in the first half of the 20th Century.
Just hours after opposition leader Shinzo Abe, a man well-placed to become Japan's next prime minister visited Wednesday, China lashed out, saying it would "further poison bilateral ties".
"At such a delicate moment, Abe's visit... has added insult to injury and dealt another blow to the already fragile Sino-Japanese relations," the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
"Provocative and short-sighted actions would harm the interests of Japan and its people," it said, noting that already the "strained political ties have produced serious economic fallout for both sides".
Japan and China have spent the last few months at loggerheads over a group of islands in the East China Sea.
In Seoul, a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman on Thursday expressed "deep regret and concern" over Abe's visit to Yasukuni, which he said was "a symbol of the Japanese war of aggression and militarism".
"Japanese leaders should have the courage to face history and humbly accept historical facts... in order for Japan to become a sincere partner for its neighbours," the foreign ministry spokesman said.
On August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, two ministers -- Hata and Jin Matsubara, the minister in charge of the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea -- visited Yasukuni.