Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that Japan should “emulate” ancestors from the Meiji Era (1868-1912) in its ongoing attempt to combat the various difficulties it faces today. His comments came as the nation marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the era credited with its shift toward modernization.

At a government-organized event in Tokyo commemorating the anniversary, Abe praised the steps ancestors took toward reinventing Japan after years of feudal rule and likened their “brave” fight against the sweeping rise of Western powers to his own effort today to overcome national challenges, including a rapidly shrinking population.

But he did not directly refer to Japan’s wars in the past 150 years or its colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

“As we head toward an era beyond the (current) Heisei period, we will emulate people in the Meiji Era and carve out a future without balking at any challenges,” Abe said.

Japan is set to undergo a historic transition in April next year with Emperor Akihito’s abdication, which will bring end the Heisei era to an end.

At the event, attended by about 300 representatives from the political, judicial and business communities, Abe compared Japan’s situation today to the “crisis” from 150 years ago, when Western powers began making forays into Asia in what he characterized as a “wave of colonialism.”

“Having lagged behind them in terms of national strength, we faced a crisis that threatened our survival,” Abe said, noting the “bravery” of those in the Meiji Era who “literally risked their lives” to protect Japan’s independence against the threat of Western powers.

“Today, we experience a rapidly shrinking and graying population internally, while at the same time finding ourselves in the throes of turmoil amid the drastically changing landscape of the international community. This means we’re going through an era of national crises,” Abe said.

Japan, he said, has to rise above these challenges just as the Meiji predecessors successfully adapted to a new era with “bravery and bold decisions.”

The closest Abe came to acknowledging Japan’s past wars was when he encouraged a younger generation to learn from both the “bright and dark sides” of what took place in the process of modernization. He did not, however, elaborate on what these darker aspects were.

This lack of reference to Japan’s past wars prompted the Japanese Communist Party to boycott the ceremony.

Akira Koike, head of the party’s secretariat, told a news conference Monday that the JCP cannot attend what it regards as an event that seeks to “glorify” the whole of Japan’s past 150 years.

In the speech, Abe credited the Meiji Era with “laying the foundation for Japan’s modern-day political, economic and social systems,” noting the era brought about an industrial revolution, initiated railway services and developed postal, financial and educational systems.

“Feeling proud of (these accomplishments), we need to stride ahead with resolution today,” he said.

The government hosted a similar commemorative ceremony on Oct. 23, 1968, when the nation marked the centennial anniversary of the imperial edict declaring the transition to the Meiji Era from the previous Keio period.

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