MANILA – Emperor Akihito on Wednesday urged younger generations to “keep alive the memories of the Second World War” and the hardship that followed, as a way of avoiding conflict amid growing maritime tension in the East and South China seas.
The Emperor, 82, who met Philippine President Benigno Aquino privately at the start of a four-day state visit, expressed remorse over atrocities in the region by the Imperial Japanese Army 70 years ago.
The Emperor wanted to remind young people who had not experienced the war not to forget the hardship it brought to both Japan and other Asian countries, his press secretary, Hatsuhisa Takashima, told reporters in the Philippine capital.
“It’s a thing which should not be repeated again,” Takashima added. “He has a strong feeling toward war … and that’s the reason he came here.”
He said the Emperor, who as a child had experienced the horrors of war, was worried younger generations would not “keep alive the memories of the Second World War.”
As a young prince, he was sent to the mountains to escape American bombings in Tokyo. He returned after the war to the capital in ruins and the people experiencing hardship.
“Fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured,” the Emperor said in a speech at a banquet Wednesday night.
“This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit,” the Emperor said during the event held at Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the Philippine president.
The Emperor’s comments come against a backdrop of growing regional tension as China presses more assertively its claims to almost the entire South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas.
But Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have conflicting claims. China and Japan are contesting the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are called the Diaoyus by Beijing.
The Emperor, banned by the pacifist Constitution from any political role, has often urged his nation not to forget the suffering of the war and tried to promote reconciliation with neighbors.
Later in the day, the imperial couple laid flowers at the Heroes’ Cemetery, dedicated to Filipinos who fought and died in World War II to pay respects to those who perished in the war.
Some 1.1 million Filipinos and around 518,000 Japanese, including civilians, lost their lives during the war.
Aquino’s communications secretary, Herminio Coloma, said the president and the Emperor talked about his first visit in 1962, the traffic congestion brought by Japanese car sales and retail shops from Japan.
Two war-related issues — the return of the remains of more than 500,000 Japanese soldiers who died and the use of “comfort women” in the Philippines — would be left to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he added.
Comfort women were those forced to provide sex for Imperial Japanese troops.