Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, 29 December, after returning from the Pearl Harbor trip with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a day before.

It was Inada's first Yasukuni homage since the hawkish politician became defence chief in August. The contentious memorial was founded by Emperor Meiji and honours those who died in service of the Empire of Japan, which existed from the Meiji Restoration of 1869 until the nation was renamed during the Allied occupation in 1947.

But countries like China and South Korea have always criticised the controversial place as it reminds them of the suffering they experienced under Japan's colonialism and hostility in the first half of the 20th century.

South Korea's defence ministry called the visit "deplorable".

"We express deep concern and regret over Japan's defence minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine, even as our government has been emphasising the need to create a new, forward-looking South Korea-Japan relationship," the ministry said in a statement.

This comes after the defence chief joined Japan's Prime Minister Abe and US President Barack Obama on Tuesday for a visit to Pearl Harbor to observe the victims of the Japanese attack 75 years ago. The trip marked the very first homage paid by a Japanese leader and a US president to the war historic place.

In May, Obama had gone to Hiroshima – the spot where the US dropped nuclear weapons in August 1945, during the final stage of World War II.

"This year the president of the country that dropped the atomic bomb visited Hiroshima, and yesterday the prime minister made remarks of consolation at Pearl Harbor. I visited the shrine wishing to firmly create peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective," Inada told reporters at Yasukuni.

Japan's Defense Minister
Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo Kyodo/via REUTERS