Two Japanese cabinet ministers and dozens of lawmakers have visited the Yasukuni shrine on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering but was expected to stay away, in an apparent move intended to avoid inflaming tensions with neighbours.
The shrine commemorates Japan's war dead but also honours several convicted war criminals, the BBC reports.
China summoned the Japanese ambassador to protest.
The Chinese foreign ministry said the visit "seriously harms the feelings of the people in China".
China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's war-time aggression.