According to an article in the the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun HERE, Korean embassy officials trying to return the letter were turned away at the gate of the Japanese Foreign Ministry because they had not made an official appointment.
UPDATE: Jiji Press - "Japan Refuses to Accept Takeshima Letter Returned by Seoul"
Seoul, Aug. 23 (Jiji Press)--Japan's Foreign Ministry refused to accept a letter Thursday that was sent by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak but returned.
An official at the South Korean embassy in Tokyo visited the ministry to return the letter, but the ministry refused to meet the official.
Following this, the South Korean embassy sent the letter back by registered mail.
Due to the unusual diplomatic spat, the bilateral relationship looks certain to deteriorate further.
In the letter, sent Friday, Noda criticized Lee's unprecedented visit to the Sea of Japan islands of Takeshima, controlled by South Korea, on Aug. 10 and expressed regret over Lee's remarks on seeking an apology from Emperor Akihito for Japan's past colonial rule.UPDATE 2: Dialy Yomiuri Online gives more detail HERE on the Korean President's refusing to receive the Japanese Prime Minister's letter, including the following quotes:
- According to the Yonhap news agency, a senior official of the South Korean presidential office said, "It makes no sense to reply to comments that are not true."
- The news agency quoted a South Korean government source as saying: "Even if our response [to Japan] is seen as diplomatically rude, there is no reason to change our principles on this matter. If we see this issue from the other side, Japan also has gone against diplomatic protocol in sending [Noda's] personal letter."
- Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura expressed concern over the issue. "Regarding diplomatic protocol, I can't think of a letter sent from a national leader to another leader being returned," he said at a press conference Thursday morning.
- A senior Foreign Ministry official said, "The fact that South Korea has decided to take an unusual step in response [to Noda's letter] may prove that the nation is shocked by Japan's objections [to Lee's remarks and actions]."