TOKYO: Japan held an annual rally on Friday over Tokyo's claim to a set of tiny islands controlled by South Korea, which has been at the centre of a long-standing territorial feud.
Some 500 people flocked to the event in Shimane prefecture in western Japan, including the highest-ranking Japanese government official ever to attend and local and national politicians.
South Korea, which had urged Tokyo to cancel the rally, reacted angrily and hundreds of activists shouting anti-Japanese slogans demonstrated outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
Tokyo refers to the islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) as Takeshima while they are known as Dokdo in South Korea.
"Takeshima is an integral part of our country," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.
South Korea was particularly angered by the presence at the rally of Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary in Tokyo's Cabinet Office, who Suga said had been sent "as a matter of course".
"Our government strongly protests the dispatch of a Japanese government official to such an unjustifiable event," the foreign ministry said, while denouncing Japan's "meaningless territorial claim" to the islands.
The ministry said it had called in the deputy chief of the Japanese mission to formally register Seoul's protest over the Shimane event.
Relations between the two countries have regularly been strained by the territorial dispute and other issues of contention arising from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
The territorial row deteriorated last year following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the island chain. Tokyo is embroiled in separate territorial spats with China and Russia.
Japan's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who swept national elections in December, sent a message to South Korean president-elect Park Geun-Hye last month seeking a new start to a relationship dogged by bitter historical disputes.
During his past stint as prime minister, Abe angered South Koreans by denying the Japanese military's direct involvement in forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II.