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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Koizumi's Shrine Visit Angers Neighbors

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine on Monday, fulfilling a promise to make annual visits to a war memorial considered a symbol of unrepentant Japanese militarism in Asia.

Koizumi arrived at the shrine in central Tokyo on Monday morning, entered through the main gate and offered a brief prayer. He wore a dark gray suit and blue tie, in contrast to his more formal dress in previous visits, apparently in an effort to play down the visit's significance.

The visit was likely to further strain Japan's relations with China and South Korea, whose leaders have been demanding that Koizumi stop his visits. The Japanese prime minister argues they merely pay homage to this country's fallen soldiers.

As an indication of the visit's sensitive nature, Seoul quickly summoned Japan's ambassador to South Korea to lodge a protest, and Kyodo News reported that the Japanese Embassy in Beijing warned Japanese citizens that the visit could cause "strong reactions from the Chinese government as well as the public."

Koizumi has paid his respects at the shrine on different dates in each of the past four years but appeared to have timed his fifth visit with particular care. After his continued visits and other factors caused violent demonstrations in China and South Korea this year -- the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and Japanese colonialism in Asia -- he avoided going before Aug. 15, the date the war ended.

Koizumi's visit to the Shinto shrine coincided with the start of a fall festival there, where Japan's 2.5 million war dead are enshrined as deities. Asian neighbors object particularly to the fact that Class A war criminals, including leaders responsible for wartime atrocities, are also worshiped at the shrine.