TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed Japan’s pledge not to go to war in a somber ceremony Monday as his country marked the 77th anniversary of its defeat in World War II, but did not mention Japan’s wartime aggression.
In his first speech as prime minister since taking office in October, Kishida said Japan “will stick to our resolve never to repeat the tragedy of the war”.
Kishida made no mention of Japanese aggression in Asia in the first half of the 20th century or of casualties in the region. The omission set a precedent set by slain former leader Shinzo Abe, who had pushed for the whitewashing of Japan’s war violence.
Kishida focused largely on the damage Japan has suffered on its territory: the US atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massive incendiary bombs all over Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity the country enjoys today is based on the suffering and sacrifice of those who died in the war.
As of 2013, Abe stopped acknowledging Japan’s wartime hostilities or apologizing for his August 15 speeches, scrapping the tradition started in 1995.
Emperor Naruhito reiterated his “deep remorse” for Japan’s acts of war in a nuanced sense in his speech, as did his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the war emperor, Hirohito. , the grandfather of the current emperor.
About 900 participants observed a minute of silence during the ceremony at the Budokan arena at noon. The crowd had been reduced from about 5,000 before the pandemic, participants were asked to wear masks and no national anthem was sung.
While Kishida did not pray at the Yasukuni shrine on Monday and instead sent a religious ornament, three of his cabinet members – Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba visited earlier Monday and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
“I have paid respect to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for national policies,” Takaichi told reporters, adding that she also prayed that there will be no more war victims in Ukraine.
Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno defended their Yasukuni visits, saying, “In any country, it is normal to pay respects to those who have sacrificed their lives for their nation”, but that they decided to pray as “private citizens”.
“There is no change in Japan’s policy to strengthen ties with its neighbors China and South Korea,” Matsuno said.
Victims of Japanese actions in the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism as it honors convicted war criminals among approximately 2.5 million war victims.
The visits sparked criticism from China and South Korea.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over the Yasukuni visits, which it says embellishes past Japanese invasions. The ministry urged Japanese officials to “look history straight in the eye” and show their “sincere” remorse with action.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized it Sunday after Nishimura’s visit as “the Japanese government’s wrong stance on historical issues.” Wang also urged Japan to “think deeply” about its war aggression and act responsibly to gain the trust of its Asian neighbors and the wider international community.
AP writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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