A 30-minute visit to a controversial shrine by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ignited a predictable firestorm of criticism and condemnation Thursday from Japan's neighbors.
The Yasukuni Shrine is regarded by China, North Korea and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's imperial military past. All three countries suffered under Japan's military aggression in World War II. Millions of Chinese civilians and soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Koreans, died.
So, each time a top Japanese official has visited, the countries have protested - saying the visits honor war criminals and deny Japan's atrocities in Asia.
Not so, said Abe on Thursday. He wanted to pray for the souls of the war dead, not honor war criminals, he said.
"I have renewed my determination before the souls of the war dead to firmly uphold the pledge never to wage a war again," he said.