Japan marked the 70th anniversary of its surrender in World War II on Saturday, with the Imperial Couple, prime minister and about 5,000 relatives of the war dead set to attend a ceremony later in the day to mourn the fallen.
This year’s commemoration comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration seeks to pass security bills to bring about a landmark shift in Japan’s defense posture.
The bills, now under Diet deliberation, would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of the United States or other friendly nations under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked. If enacted, the legislation would be a major shift in Japan’s post-World War II exclusively defense-oriented security policy.
Constitutional scholars have criticized the bills as violating the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution and many citizens are concerned that the legislation would make it likelier for Japan to be involved in war again.
At the government-sponsored ceremony at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo, Abe is set to deliver a speech, a day after he reiterated previous Japanese government apologies over the nation’s wartime actions in a closely watched statement marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. Abe did not offer an apology himself.
Abe said in the statement that force should never be used again to settle international disputes.
At memorial services the previous two years, Abe did not mention remorse over the suffering Japan caused to the people of many countries, particularity to those of Asian nations, during the war, as Japanese prime ministers had done at the annual event since 1994. He also did not pledge that Japan would never go to war.
Following Abe’s speech, participants will observe a moment of silence at noon for the 2.3 million service members and 800,000 civilians killed in the war, including those killed by the U.S. atomic bombings and air raids on Japanese cities.
Emperor Akihito, who is expected to attend the ceremony with Empress Michiko, will then deliver a speech, followed by words from the heads of both houses of the Diet, the Supreme Court chief Justice, and a representative of relatives of the war dead.
Because many of those relatives are aging, a group of six boys and girls aged below 18 will pay a floral tribute at the memorial as representatives of the young generation for the first time.
The oldest family member set to attend the ceremony is 100 years old and the youngest 3 years old.