Tokyo — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed at the Yasukuni war shrine today to mark Tokyo's World War II surrender, triggering immediate protests by China and South Korea but cheering his conservative followers.
It was Koizumi's sixth visit to the shrine since taking office in 2001, but his first on the highly symbolic Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's 1945 defeat. He is the first prime minister to make such a visit since Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1985.
The shrine visits have been a lightening rod for critics who accuse Japan of failing to fully atone for its military invasions in the 1930s and 40s. Yasukuni honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including war criminals executed after World War II such as warime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Koizumi, who steps down as prime minister next month, defended the visit and criticized China and South Korea for inflating the importance of the Yasukuni issue and refusing to meet him in a summit unless he halted the pilgrimages.
"I go there to remember and reflect on past wars and renew our resolve never to go to war again," he told reporters.