Japan marked the 70th anniversary of its World War II surrender Saturday with 6,517 people in attendance at the national commemoration ceremony observing a moment of silence at noon in the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.
Exactly 70 years ago at the same time on the same day, the recorded voice of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was broadcast over the radio nationwide to announce that Japan had surrendered to the U.S.-led Allied powers.
World War II left an estimated 3.1 million Japanese dead as well as millions of victims in other parts of Asia invaded by Japan.
“On this day to commemorate the war dead and pray for peace, my thoughts are with the people who lost their precious lives in the last war and their bereaved families,” Emperor Akihito said in a speech during the ceremony.
The Emperor’s brief remarks at the annual ceremony were almost identical to those in previous years, but he expressed “deep remorse” over the war, a new phrase inserted this year. Japan is being closely watched by neighboring countries keen to see how it reflects on the nation’s wartime actions. “Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” the Emperor said.
In a reflection of the generational changes since the war, 5,327 relatives of Japanese military war dead attended the ceremony, but only 14 were widows compared to past years when they had a significant presence.
About 80 percent of the relatives were aged 70 or older, according to the welfare ministry. The oldest was 100-year-old Sei Matsuoka, reportedly the widow of a solider killed during the war in what is today Myanmar.
On Saturday, ruling Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Tomomi Inada, Haruko Arimura, minister in charge of female empowerment and gender equality, internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi and disaster management minister Eriko Yamatani paid a visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara also visited the shrine and said he wanted the Emperor to also make a visit. Emperor Akihito has never visited the shrine.
Lawmaker visits to the Shinto landmark routinely draw condemnation from various quarters, particularly from China and South Korea, where wartime resentment against Japan lingers.
Yasukuni is regarded by many countries as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited the shrine in December 2013, drawing the ire of China, South Korea and the United States, did not visit the shrine Saturday. Instead, he laid flowers at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery where the remains of unidentified Japanese who died overseas during World War II are interred.
Koichi Hagiuda, a Lower House member and close aide to Abe, visited the shrine Saturday morning.
He told reporters at Yasukuni that Abe probably decided not to come because of the diplomatic tensions that were stoked by his last visit.
“(But) yesterday (Abe) told me his sense of gratefulness for the spirits (of the war dead) and his feelings for Yasukuni have not changed,” Hagiuda said, adding he made an offering to Yasukuni on behalf of Abe.
Abe has maintained his visit in 2013 was to pay his respects to all of the war dead, not to show reverence to war criminals.
Yasukuni Shrine honors 2.46 million people who “dedicated their lives to the state.” Most are soldiers killed in Japan’s modern wars, but also enshrined are 12 Class-A convicted war criminals of World War II, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, together with two defendants who died while in detention.