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This year marks 75 years since the end of 第二次世界大戦 (dai ni-ji sekai taisen, World War II), and the start of August features several important dates for Japan.

Aug. 6 and 9 are the anniversaries of 広島市への原子爆弾の投下 (Hiroshima-shi e no genshi bakudan no tōka, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) and 長崎市への原子爆弾の投下 (Nagasaki-shi e no genshi bakudan no tōka, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki), while Aug. 15 will mark 75 years since Emperor Hirohito announced 日本の降伏 (Nihon no kōfuku, the surrender of Japan).

Every year since, these moments have been marked by government officials and 被爆者 (hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors), the latter of whom have been involved in 被爆体験の継承活動 (hibaku taiken no keishō katsudō, activities to pass on the experience of the atomic bomb). In 2020, however, the average age of 被爆者 is 83.31, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, and as time goes by it will be hard to hear the stories of these remarkable people first-hand.

For now, however, these historic events are marked by a 平和記念式典 (heiwa kinen shikiten, peace memorial ceremonies) in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th, respectively, and a 全国戦没者追悼式 (zenkoku senbotsusha tsuitōshiki, Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead) in Tokyo on the 15th.

Like most 式 (shiki, ceremonies) around the world, we can expect the presentation of 献花 (kenka, floral tributes) and 1分間の黙祷 (ippun-kan no mokutō, a minute of silence), but what may be of interest to language learners are the memorial addresses given by attendees.

Anyone speaking at a memorial is likely to offer an 祈り (inori, prayer) for the victims and for the future. At last year’s Aug. 15 event, Emperor Naruhito said: “再び戦争の惨禍が繰り返されぬことを切に願い…世界の平和と我が国の一層の発展を祈ります” (Futatabi sensō no sanka ga kurikaesarenu koto o setsu ni negai… sekai no heiwa to waga kuni no issō no hatten o inorimasu, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never again be repeated… and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country).

His speech followed one by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who used the honorific 御 (on/mi) frequently as well as the honorable form of the verb 祈る (inoru, to pray): “御霊の御前にあって、御霊安かれと、心より、お祈り申し上げます” (Mitama no onmae ni atte, mitama yasukare to, kokoro yori, o-inori mōshiagemasu, Here, before the souls of all who lost their lives, I offer my heartfelt prayers for their repose). With this construction — adding the honorific お to the masu-stem of 祈る and attaching it to the humble verb 申し上げます (mōshiagemasu, to give) — Abe can convey the appropriate amount of reverence to those who died and their loved ones.

御 and 祈る aren’t the only reverential words used in such speeches. Additionally, 切に (setsu ni, ardently) and 心より (kokoro yori, from the heart) help to emphasize heartfelt statements, much like とても (totemo, very) and 本当に (hontō ni, really) add emphasis in casual conversation.

One part of the 平和祈念式典 features the “平和への誓い” (Heiwa e no Chikai, Commitment to Peace) by こども代表 (kodomo daihyō, representatives for the children [of Japan]). The 祈り of previously mentioned speakers is spiritual and may hold less resolve than the 誓い (chikai, resolution/ pledge) these children are committing to.

The mayor of Hiroshima, who tends to feel responsibility for getting the world to remember what happened to his city, showed his 誓い this year by directly declaring: “被爆地長崎、そして思いを同じくする世界の人々と共に力を尽くすことを誓います” (Hibakuchi Nagasaki, soshite omoi o onajiku suru sekai no hitobito to tomoni chikara o tsukusu koto o chikaimasu, in concert with the city of Nagasaki and kindred spirits around the world, we pledge to make every effort to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons and beyond that, a world of genuine, lasting peace).

Last year, the mayor of Nagasaki expressed the same sentiment using 宣言する (sengen suru, to declare): “核兵器廃絶と世界恒久平和の実現に力を尽くし続けることをここに宣言します” (Kakuheiki haizetsu to sekai kōkyū heiwa no jitugen ni chikara o tsukushi tsuzukeru koto o kokoni sengen shimasu, I declare to strive relentlessly for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the realization of lasting world peace).

It’s also worth noting that many language learners may recall 宣言 (sengen, declaration) from its frequent use this year in the term 緊急事態宣言 (kinkyū jitai sengen, state of emergency declaration), due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of which, コロナ禍の終息を祈るとともに、マスクの着用を日々心がけることを誓います (korona-ka no shūsoku o inoru to tomoni, masuku no chakuyō o hibi kokorogakeru koto o chikaimasu, I pray for the end of the coronavirus pandemic and, at the same time, I pledge to endeavor to wear my face mask everyday).

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