Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plans to visit a controversial shrine honoring Japan's war dead - including its war criminals - on Thursday, his spokesman said.
The visit is certain to rile other countries in Asia at time when Japan, the United States and other nations are trying to arrange a meeting early this year to end the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula, a former Japanese conquest.
Koizumi has decided to pay his New Year's respects at Yasukuni shrine in the morning, his spokesman Yu Kameoka said.
The planned visit will be Koizumi's fourth at the shrine since he became prime minister in April 2001 and his first since January last year. NHK said Koizumi would go to pray for peace.
The prime minister has insisted on making annual trips to Yasukuni shrine, which honors about 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including executed criminals such as war-era Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Japan's neighboring countries in Asia say the shrine glorifies Japan's militaristic past.
The decision is widely viewed as a nod to conservatives in his own ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but has drawn criticism from nations where Japan's military invaded and then administered with an iron grip in the early 1900s.
It comes at a touchy time.
China's lead has been vital in prodding North Korea to hold a second round of nuclear talks, though no specific date has been set.
Japan and its partners in the talks, the United States, China, South Korea and Russia, want North Korea to agree to scrap its programs to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea is seeking financial aid and US assurances that it will not be attacked.
Koizumi's visit has triggered angry reactions from North Korea and China in the past and could imperil any agreement to meet soon, analysts say.
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945. It also invaded and waged war with China from the 1930s before expanding its ambitions to include southeast Asia.
Despite the passage of more than a half century, Tokyo's reluctance to atone for its brutal rule has been an obstacle to warmer relations with its neighbors.