Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking on the 75th anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender, pledged never to repeat the tragedy of war and Emperor Naruhito expressed “deep remorse” over the wartime past, which still haunts East Asia.
“Never to repeat the tragedy of war. We will continue to remain committed to this resolute pledge,” said Abe, wearing a face mask at an official ceremony for war dead on Saturday that was scaled back because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Abe, who did not echo Naruhito’s reference to remorse, sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for war dead. But he avoided a personal visit that would anger China and South Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a speech Seoul was always ready to discuss history disputes with Tokyo.
At least four Japanese cabinet ministers paid their respects in person at Yasukuni, which honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as Japan’s war dead. The shrine is seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression.
Shuichi Takatori, a member of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters he made the offering on behalf of Abe as party leader, delivering a message that Abe “paid his respects from the heart to the war dead and prayed for the rest and permanent peace of their souls.”
Abe has not gone to Yasukuni in person since a December 2013 visit that outraged China and South Korea, but has sent offerings.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 39, often floated as a future premier, was among the ministers who visited the shrine on the emotive anniversary.
South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman expressed “deep disappointment and concern” over the ministers’ visit and said Japan’s leaders must show their “deep remorse through action”.
Thousands of men and women braved scorching heat amid the COVID-19 pandemic to pay their respects at Yasukuni, where queues quickly became congested, despite markers and signs seeking to maintain social distance. Many people stood in long queues for hours, holding parasols to block the sun in heat over 35 degrees Celsius