Commemorating 65 years since the end of World War II, Prime Minister Naoto Kan delivered a speech Sunday expressing deep remorse for the damage Japan inflicted on its neighbors and its own people during the war, vowing to work toward global peace.
“During the war, our nation inflicted great damage and suffering to people of many countries, especially to those of Asian nations,” Kan said in a speech at Nippon Budokan Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, where the surrender day ceremony is held each year on Aug. 15.
“I express my feelings of profound remorse to all the victims and their families,” Kan said.
This year’s ceremony took place on the centennial of Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula, which Kan apologized for in a statement to South Korea last Tuesday.
In a significant turn of events, Kan and his Cabinet also declined to visit Yasukuni Shrine, widely regarded as the spiritual pillar of Japanese militarism. Prime ministers and Cabinet members who visit the Shinto complex usually trigger fierce criticism from the countries that were invaded, most notably China and South Korea.
The way the Kan administration is commemorating these important and emotionally sensitive dates may signal a progressive change in foreign policy. Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan swept to power on the theme of “change” last August, ousting the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party in a historic general election.
After singing the national anthem “Kimigayo” at Nippon Budokan Hall in a ceremony to commemorate the roughly 3 million service members and civilians who died in the war, Kan said it was necessary to reflect on the past and document the lessons for future generations.
“Violent conflicts remain rife in the world,” Kan said. “In order to prevent the horrors of war from being repeated, our nation renews its pledge to work toward establishing lasting global peace.”
Kan was followed by Emperor Akihito, who attended the ceremony with Empress Michiko.
“I am filled with renewed sorrow for the people who have lost their precious lives in the war and their bereaved families,” the Emperor said. “I sincerely wish that the horrors of war not be repeated, and along with the public would like to express our heartfelt sorrow to those who lost their lives in the war, and pray for global peace and further development of our nation.”
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