TOKYO, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government on Wednesday asserted its claims over two disputed islets in the Sea of Japan during a ceremony in Shimane Prefecture, drawing a harsh backlash from South Korea who administers the islets.
At an annual ceremony known in Japan as "Takeshima Day," the government sent Cabinet Office Parliamentary Vice Minister Shunsuke Mutai to speak at the event, to the ire of Seoul who summoned Hideo Suzuki, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and lodged a protest with Tokyo over Mutai's attendance.
"We've been continuing efforts so that the understanding that the Takeshima islands are our country's inherent territory would spread. We will steadily continue the efforts," Mutai said in reference to the contested islands, which are claimed by and called Dokdo in South Korea.
Mutai also denounced a plan by Seoul to erect "comfort women" statues on the disputed islets.
Along with the territorial dispute, the so-called "comfort women" issue and other instances of Japan trying to whitewash its wartime history have also been a source of rising discontent between Japan and South Korea.
South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it strongly protests against Japan for its unjust claims to Dokdo islets by dispatching a senior government official to the Takeshima Day ceremony.
The statement urged Japan to immediately stop such event and squarely face up to history, saying Dokdo is an inherent territory of South Korea historically and geographically under international laws.
In 2005, officials in Shimane Prefecture designated Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day and have held a ceremony there every year since.
A Cabinet official has attended the politically sensitive ceremony for the past five successive years.
At the ceremony this year about 460 people gathered in the prefecture's capital of Matsue, according to local media, and Shimane Governor Zembee Mizoguchi also spoke at the ceremony.
Prior to the ceremony, local media said a scuffle broke out between a Japanese group and South Korean protestors.