South Korea summoned Japan’s ambassador Thursday to lodge a protest after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended the controversial visits made by Japanese cabinet ministers and lawmakers to the Yasukuni war shrine.

“We express strong regrets over the distorted understanding of history and anachronistic remarks by the Japanese government and politicians,” Kim Kyou-hyun, Korean First Vice Foreign Minister, told Ambassador Koro Bessho in Seoul, AFP reports.

Kim said Tokyo needed to recall the “immeasurable pain and damages” Japan’s wartime aggression and colonial expansion caused to its neighbors.

On Wednesday, Abe remarked it was “natural to honor the spirits of the war dead” and said it was his job to “protect our pride, which rests on history and tradition”, reports Korea JoongAng Daily.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, echoed Abe’s defence of the Yasukuni visits.

“I think in any country it is natural to express respect to the people who sacrificed their lives for the nation,” Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

“South Korea and China are important neighbors. We do not hope to see the issue over the Yasukuni impact our overall friendship,” he added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se canceled his trip to Tokyo in protest over the visits, which he says “glorifies an invasion that inflicted great loss and suffering on Japan’s neighbors”.