Masahiro Imamura, the reconstruction minister for disaster-hit regions, visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday in a move likely to anger China and South Korea.

Imamura is the first Cabinet minister who visited Yasukuni after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet reshuffle last week.

Imamura said he "prayed for our country's peace and prosperity."

He said he visited the shrine as an individual, a lawmaker and a Cabinet minister, and that he routinely visited the shrine during its spring and autumn festivals.

Imamura said he made a money offering out of his own pocket and also paid a visit to Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, which houses the unidentified and unclaimed remains of soldiers who died overseas during World War II.

His visit came just days before the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in WWII.

Yasukuni, which honors the war dead, also enshrines convicted war criminals. It has been a source of diplomatic friction. Past visits by ministers have drawn criticism from Asian countries that suffered from Japan's wartime aggression and see the shrine as a symbol of its past militarism.

Media outlets and neighboring countries are also watching closely if Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, known for her right-wing views, will pay a visit to the shrine.

During a news conference just after she was elevated to the Cabinet last week, Inada declined to answer when asked whether she will make her annual visit to the shrine this year, saying the matter is a private and emotional one.

"I have answered this question many times. This is a personal matter close to my heart, and I don't think I should say I will or I won't, or I should or I shouldn't," Inada said. "As a member of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Abe, I will make an appropriate decision."