TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's foreign minister left for Spain and France on Tuesday, where he was expected to press Tokyo's case in its spat with China.
In a message on his ministry's Facebook page, Mr Fumio Kishida noted the visits were his first of the new year.
"I will continue to visit foreign countries actively this year, protect national interests and press ahead with diplomacy that contributes to world peace and stability," he said.
The trip comes as Japan is locked in an increasingly bitter row with China, with Beijing accusing nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of whitewashing his country's empire-building past with a visit to a controversial spot that honours convicted war criminals.
Mr Abe's pilgrimage to Yasukuni Shrine on Dec 26 came after more than a year of high tensions over the sovereignty of disputed islands in the East China Sea, which has left some observers warning of the danger of an armed clash in the area.
A diplomatic war of words spilled over this month into the British press with envoys from both sides accusing the other of playing Voldemort, the evil wizard in the Harry Potter books and films.
Observers say Tokyo will be looking for support in Europe and other parts of the world that are sometimes suspicious of the motives of China, which accuses Japan of resurgent militarism.
During his visits, Mr Kishida will explain about the establishment of a US-style "National Security Council" in December aimed at promoting Japan as a "proactive contributor to the peace", according to a foreign ministry official.
He will arrive in Madrid later on Tuesday and meet with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo before making courtesy calls on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos I on Wednesday.
He will move to Paris and meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the foreign and defence ministers from Japan and France will have their first-ever "two plus two" meeting at the foreign ministry, which will be followed by a joint press conference.
Mr Kishida will also meet with President Francois Hollande on Thursday before leaving for home.
In the "two-plus-two" meeting. Japan and France will discuss ways to keep peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa, the official said.
The four ministers will "explain the security policy of each country" and "exchange views on regional situations such as East Asia and Africa".
"Of course, our two ministers will explain about what is happening now in East Asia and the Senkaku Islands," the official said.
Mr Kishida's meetings in Madrid and Paris will be a "very good occasion" to explain Abe's recent visit to Yasukuni, he added.