Japan and South Korea will hold talks this week to try to improve frosty relations before US President Barack Obama visits both countries during an Asian tour.
Junichi Ihara, head of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asia and Oceania affairs bureau, will visit Seoul on Wednesday for a meeting with his Korean counterpart, according to a statement released yesterday.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have sunk to their worst level in years, mired in disputes linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea.
These included the use of so-called "comfort women" from Korea and other Asian nations as sex slaves in wartime brothels.
The emotional issue has deeply divided the key US allies amid growing regional security risks such as China's military build-up and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Obama managed last month to arrange the first summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at The Hague.
Japan's government made a landmark apology in 1993 to the "comfort women".
But repeated wavering since then on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.
Obama will also visit Malaysia and the Philippines during his Asian tour this month.