Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday sent a ritual offering to the war-linked Yasukuni shrine, viewed by some of Japan's Asian neighbors as a symbol of the country's past militarism, on the occasion of its spring festival.

Kishida sent the ceremonial tree, called "masakaki," on the first day of the three-day ceremony at the Shinto religious facility in central Tokyo.

Economic revitalization minister Yoshitaka Shindo paid a visit to the shrine on Sunday morning. "I paid my respects to the spirits of those who put their heart and soul into working for the country," he told reporters.

Photo taken on April 21, 2024, at the war-linked Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo shows the "masakaki" ritual offering sent by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the occasion of the Shinto religious facility's spring festival. (Kyodo)

South Korea's Foreign Ministry expressed "deep disappointment and regret" over Kishida's offering and the visit by a minister, saying the shrine "glorifies Japan's past wars of aggression and enshrines war criminals."

In a statement, the ministry urged Japan's leaders to "squarely face history and show their humble reflection and genuine repentance through their actions."

Known as a dovish moderate within his conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida is likely to once again refrain from an in-person visit, as he has done since taking power in October 2021, people close to him said.

Yasukuni has often been at the center of diplomatic friction with China and South Korea as Japan's wartime leaders, convicted as war criminals by a post-World War II international tribunal, are among the more than 2.4 million war dead honored at the shrine.

Japanese economic revitalization minister Yoshitaka Shindo meets the press after visiting the war-linked Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on April 21, 2024, as the Shinto shrine's three-day spring festival begins. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In 1978, Yasukuni added 14 Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, to the enshrined deities, stirring controversy at home and abroad. Tojo was executed by hanging for crimes against peace.

Past visits to Yasukuni by Japanese prime ministers, such as assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe, and lawmakers have drawn a backlash from China and South Korea, where memories of Japan's wartime actions run deep.

Japan had invaded and occupied a wide area of China by the end of the Second World War and ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Recently, Sino-Japanese ties have been frayed due in part to Beijing's increasing military assertiveness in the region and Tokyo's release of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea beginning in August 2023.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul, which had deteriorated to their worst level in decades over a long-standing wartime labor compensation dispute, have improved after President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May 2022.

In a bid to avoid irritating China, South Korea and some other Asian neighbors, recent prime ministers have sent offerings to Yasukuni at the time of its spring and fall festivals as well as the anniversary of Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.