(CNN) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on Thursday apologized to South Korea for the more than three decades when Japan ruled over Korea, calling the time a "tragic incident."
Okada made the rare apology during a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, Korean state-run media reported.
"I believe it was a tragic incident for Koreans when they were deprived of their nation and their identity," Okada said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
"I can fully understand the feelings of (Koreans) who were deprived of their identity and nation. I believe we must never forget the victims," he added.
Japan controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945. During that time, Japan's military is accused of forcing about 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, to serve as sex slaves. They were known as "comfort women" for soldiers in Japan's Imperial Army.
There have been street protests and lawsuits in that past in South Korea over the sufferings of the comfort women.
At least one other Japanese leader has apologized for the era.
In 2001, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledged the "enormous damage" inflicted by Japan's military "by colonization and invasion."