The prime minister summoned a Cabinet member Thurs-day to answer for reportedly suggesting that Japan doesn't need to do any more apologizing for its role in World War II.
The incident illustrates the degree of sensitivity over Japan's wartime accountability, an especially touchy issue with the anniversary of the war's end just five days away.The government spent much of the year arguing over whether Japanese lawmakers should use the half-century anniversary to offer an apology for war atrocities.
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and some of his predecessors have made personal statements of apology, but lawmakers have issued only a vaguely worded statement that stopped short of apology and noted Japan was not exclusively at fault in the war.
In remarks Tuesday, Education Minister Yoshinobu Shimamura repeated the theme of others being responsible as well as Japan.
"Is war not the mutual use of aggression?" Japanese news reports quoted him as saying. The national newspaper Asahi quoted him as recommending that "we all bear in mind our mistakes."
South Korea's foreign ministry criticized the comments, calling them a "glossing over of Japan's aggression." It said the fact that Shimamura's ministry is in charge of educating the young about the war made his remarks particularly troubling.
"The correct understanding of history is indispensable to the establishment of forward-looking South Korea-Japan ties," the ministry said in a statement.