The British National Party's Adam Walker and French nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, along with other European right-wing politicians, yesterday visited a Japanese shrine that has drawn outrage for honouring war criminals.

Le Pen, leader of the far-right French National Front, and Walker said they were making the visit, which comes a day ahead of the 65th anniversary of the end of the World War II, to pay respect to those who died in war.

"What counts is the will that we had to honour those who have fallen for defending their country, whether they are Japanese, or any soldiers of the world, we have the same respect for them," Le Pen told reporters.

Le Pen is known for his anti-immigrant and extremist views. He shocked France when he qualified for the second round of the 2002 presidential race, which Jacques Chirac eventually won.

The visit to Yasukuni, an ornate Shinto shrine in central Tokyo, was arranged by the International Conference of Patriotic Organisations, which brought together right-wing parties from eight European countries with members of a Japanese ultranationalist group called the Issuikai.

Yasukuni honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals. Pacifists and victims of Japanese aggression, such as China and the Koreas, say it glorifies Japan's past militarism.

Tens of thousands of British, Dutch and other European soldiers and civilians were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army as they swept across Europe's former Asian colonies at the beginning of the war. Thousands were executed, tortured and starved to death in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

Walker said: "I'm honouring the dead. I am here to honour the dead – heroes that have died for their country."