SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands - Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrived here Monday on their first overseas trip dedicated to offering condolences for all victims of World War II, regardless of nationality, at a time when Japan’s ties with other Asian countries are strained over war-related issues.
“Tomorrow, I am going to commemorate the people who lost their lives in this region and make visits to the memorials with a solemn wish for world peace,” the Emperor said in an evening meeting with survivors of the Battle of Saipan in 1944, as well as former Japanese soldiers and family members of soldiers who died in the battle who are visiting the island from Japan.
Shortly before departing from Haneda airport in Tokyo, he said: “This time, on soil beyond our shores, we will once again mourn and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, and we will remember the difficult path the bereaved families had to follow, and we wish to pray for world peace.
“It is our hope that as we walk onward, all of us always keep in mind that our country today is founded on the sacrifices of these many people.”
During their two-day visit to the West Pacific island, which comes 60 years after the end of the war, the Emperor, 71, and Empress, 70, were scheduled to visit war memorials to pray for the souls of those who died in the Battle of Saipan in 1944.
Gov. Juan Babauta of the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer greeted the Imperial Couple at Saipan airport.
But no welcome event was held because Japan is keeping the visit low-key.
Japan ruled the island for more than 20 years under a League of Nations mandate until the United States took it in the 1944 battle, which lasted from June 15 to July 9.
During the battle, 43,000 Japanese troops, 12,000 Japanese civilians and 900 local islanders died, according to Japanese government figures. Some historians say the civilian death toll, including Japanese and Koreans, came to 22,000. Some 5,000 American soldiers were killed on Saipan and the nearby island of Tinian.
“Sixty-one years ago today, a fierce battle was still being fought on this island. Our hearts ache when we think of those people who fought at a place where there was no food, no water and no medical treatment for the wounded,” the Emperor said at Haneda airport.
Japanese civilians moved to the islands after Japan took over the Northern Marianas under the League of Nations mandate in 1920. Saipan is the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, now a U.S. commonwealth.
On Tuesday, the Emperor and Empress will visit the Monument of the War Dead in the Mid-Pacific to offer condolences to war victims of all nationalities. The memorial, which contains victims’ belongings, was built in 1974 by the Japanese government and the local government.
At the American Memorial Park, the Imperial Couple will lay flowers at monuments built in memory of islanders and American soldiers who lost their lives.
The couple will also visit two cliffs from which hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped to their deaths after refusing to surrender. One is now known as Banzai Cliff, after the cry “Banzai!” — or “Long live the Emperor!” — that the soldiers shouted before throwing themselves over the edge.
Koreans on isle want recognition
SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Kyodo) The Korean Association of Saipan called Monday for an apology from Japan for its wartime atrocities.
The call came during a visit by the Emperor and Empress to Saipan to pay tribute to people who died on the island in the war. The association also voiced hope that during their two-day trip, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit the Korean Peace Memorial, built in memory of the estimated 10,000 Koreans who died in the Battle of Saipan.
The Imperial Couple will visit the Monument of the War Dead in the Mid-Pacific to pay tribute to victims of the battle, but they do not plan to stop at the memorial for Koreans, located a few minutes’ walk from the monument.
While expressing an intention to welcome the Imperial Couple “with sincere and warmest greetings,” Kim Baeg Seung, president of the association, also said, “We still maintain our stance to seek an apology from Japan.
“The death of our grandfathers who were forced into hard labor on sugar cane plantations and of our grandmothers who were used as ‘comfort women’ cannot be ignored,” Kim said, reading a statement referring to Korean forced laborers and sex slaves forced to serve the Japanese war effort at a time when Japan ruled Saipan.
Last week, the association raised banners in front of its office, with one saying, “The Japanese Emperor must apologize for sacrificed Koreans during the war and pay tribute to their souls.”
The association later removed the banners after being persuaded to do so by a local Catholic church, Kim told reporters.