Japanese remember the fallen and pray for a peaceful future on WWII anniversary

by Sarah Suk

Staff Writer

On the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II on Wednesday, people across the nation remembered the country’s past and expressed hopes that memories of the war will not be forgotten.

At the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo, visitors spoke of their aspirations for a peaceful future, some criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his calls to revise the pacific Constitution in order to acknowledge clearly the presence of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and enable them to conduct fully-fledged military operations.

“The anniversary of the end of the war is a good opportunity to stop and think about what happened in the past,” said Kazunori Adachi, a high school history teacher from Hyogo Prefecture who had traveled to Tokyo for the summer holidays.

“There are many students who have no interest in the war, and a lot of them don’t even know which countries Japan fought against. Somebody has got to hand history down (to younger generations) and I want to do that as a teacher,” the 56-year-old said.

Adachi emphasized the need for a secular war memorial without political overtones like the Chidorigafuchi facility, saying he believes Japanese politicians who visit nearby Yasukuni Shrine — where convicted war criminals are honored along with the war dead — are effectively going against national interests.

“Those types of politicians are looking only at their support groups. That’s not true mourning,” he said, adding that he is against revising the Constitution.

Nearly 370,000 remains of unknown soldiers and civilians are laid to rest at the Chidorigafuchi cemetery in Chiyoda Ward.

Michiko Tanaka, a 71-year-old from Hokkaido, says she comes here almost every summer to pray for the soul of her uncle, who starved to death on Woleai Atoll in the Pacific islands, now part of Micronesia, in 1944 while fighting for Japan.

“His family received only the tip of what was claimed to be his little finger as his remains, so I believe the rest of his body is here,” she said.

Tanaka also expressed her opposition to making constitutional revisions, saying, “I get the feeling that Japan is now moving toward war and that would mean my uncle died in vain.”

Meanwhile, perennial visitors at Yasukuni Shrine thanked those who died in the war for giving their lives to bring peace and prosperity to Japan, while some expressed disappointment that Abe did not come to personally pay homage.

“Of course I want him to come here,” Masanari Nakamoto, 70, said of Abe.

The prime minister refrained from visiting the Shinto shrine for the sixth year in a row, but sent a ritual donation and dispatched ruling party lawmaker Masahiko Shibayama on his behalf.

“But I guess there are diplomatic issues that stand out more. It’s disappointing that Japan does not have enough power” to go through with a prime minister’s visit despite criticisms from neighboring countries, Nakamoto added.

Countries such as China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan’s wartime aggression, see the shrine as a symbol of the country’s past militarism, and protest when its leaders go to Yasukuni.

An 82-year-old Tokyo woman who identified herself only by her surname, Murosawa, said she believes Abe as well as Emperor Akihito actually want to visit but can’t due to the circumstances. “I pray for the day when they will be able to visit the shrine and pay respect to the war dead who sacrificed themselves for Japan,” she said.

Many visitors to both Yasukuni and Chidorigafuchi said they are saddened that this will be the last anniversary of the end of the war under the current Emperor’s Heisei era as he is set to abdicate at the end of April next year.

But Tatsuo and Katsue Sakai, a couple who visited Yasukuni Shrine with their 14-year-old son Eito, said they see the move as a time for change.

“I hope things will continue to go smoothly for Japan in the new era,” Eito said.

Crown Prince Naruhito is set to succeed the throne on May 1 next year.

Staff writers Sakura Murakami, Chisato Tanaka and contributing writer Aika Sato contributed to this report