Japan has commemorated the end of World War II at a ceremony attended by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
But tributes paid at a controversial shrine for the war dead have reopened old wounds with China.
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has become ensnared in the row as he trod a fine line between trying to avoid offending the Chinese and his own conservative supporters.
“We will never forget that today’s peace and prosperity is built upon the sacrifices of your precious lives,” Abe said, addressing Japan’s war dead during his brief address to the ceremony.
Breaking with tradition, the prime minister expressed no regret towards Asia for the wartime suffering inflicted by Japan.
But what really infuriated China was the visit of two Japanese cabinet ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 convicted war criminals among the dead.
Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, and Keiji Furuya whose brief includes public safety, joined dozens of MPs at the site.
Beijing formally complained and summoned Tokyo’s ambassador.
Japan has repeatedly apologised for its wartime actions but the shrine remains a focus of nationalist pride and has long angered China and South Korea.
Rows over wartime history, coupled with territorial disputes over uninhabited islands, threaten hopes for a summit between Japan and China aimed at easing tensions.