Japan marked the 75th anniversary of its surrender in World War II, with Emperor Naruhito expressing “deep remorse” over his country’s wartime actions at a sombre annual ceremony curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of men and women of all ages braved scorching heat to pay their respects at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine, while Naruhito pledged to reflect on the war’s events and expressed hope that the tragedy would never be repeated.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine for war dead, which also honours some convicted war criminals, but avoided a personal visit that would anger China and South Korea.
Four Japanese cabinet ministers paid their respects at the shrine in the first such visit since 2016.
Yasukuni honours 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country’s wars since the late 19th century.
However, it also enshrines senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after the war.
Neighbouring countries see the shrine as a symbol of Tokyo’s past militarism.
Abe last visited the shrine in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, sparking fury in Beijing and Seoul and earning a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.
Ayaka Soma, who visited the shrine, believes Japanese should not talk about the past, but look at the future.
“I hope that Japan and South Korea can come closer together. We have never experienced the war and we want to tell other young people to come pray here,” the 27-year-old researcher said.
“I felt I needed to come here as a Japanese person to pay respect to the Japanese who died during the war,” said Motoaki Tamura, a 31-year-old IT engineer who was at the monument, adding that his great-great-grandmother had died after contracting a disease during the war after she worked as a nurse in the Philippines.
This year’s visits at ministerial level come with tensions still high between Japan and South Korea – one of the countries that suffered most from Japan’s wartime military atrocities.
The two countries have issued reciprocal trade sanctions and threats as they battle over issues including wartime forced labour and sex slavery.