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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.

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