“Never repeat the tragedy of war. We will continue to remain committed to this strong commitment, ”said Abe, wearing a face mask at an official ceremony for war dead on Saturday, which was reduced due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Abe, who did not echo Naruhito’s reference to remorse, sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for the 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 that Seoul is always ready to discuss historic disputes with Tokyo.
At least four Japanese ministers have paid homage in person to Yasukuni, who honors 14 Japanese warlords found guilty of war criminals by an Allied court, 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 that he had made the offer on behalf of Abe as party leader, delivering the message that Abe “pays tribute to the bottom of the heart to the dead of war and prayed for rest and permanent peace. of their souls.
Abe has not been to Yasukuni in person since a December 2013 visit that outraged China and South Korea, but has sent offers.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 39, often floated around as future prime minister, was among the ministers who visited the shrine on the moving anniversary.
The spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment and concern” at the ministers’ visit and said the Japanese leaders must show their “deep remorse through action”.
Thousands of men and women braved the scorching heat amid the COVID-19 pandemic to pay tribute to Yasukuni, where the lines quickly became crowded, despite markers and signs seeking to keep the distance social. Many people stood in line for hours, holding umbrellas to block out the sun in the heat above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
“I sincerely hope that the ravages of war will never happen again,” Naruhito, 60, said at the official ceremony after bowing with Empress Masako at an altar in front of a flower bank. Both royals also wore face masks.
Grandson of Emperor Hirohito in whose name the imperial troops fought the war, Naruhito was the first monarch of Japan born after the war. He ascended to the throne last year after the abdication of his father, Akihito.
The United States and Japan became staunch security allies in the decades after the war ended, but its legacy still haunts East Asia.
Koreans, who mark the date of National Liberation Day, are unhappy with the colonization of the peninsula by Japan in 1910-1945.
China has bitter memories of Imperial troops invading and occupying parts of the country from 1931 to 1945.
“We must learn from history, let history be a warning for the future and show that we are ready to fight in the event of war,” said a commentary from the Official Journal of the Chinese Army, the People’s Liberation Army.
Japan’s relations with South Korea are particularly strained by a dispute over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japanese mines and factories during wartime.
“The door to negotiation is still wide open,” Moon said in a speech in Seoul.
Relations are also strained because of the “comfort women”, as the women, many Koreans, forced to work in Japanese military brothels are euphemistically known.
Consensus on war remains elusive in Japan, where more than 80% of people were born after the conflict ended.
Abe said future generations shouldn’t have to continue to apologize for past mistakes.
A visitor to Yasukuni, Nobuko Watanabe, 51, said she understood why Koreans would want visits there, but that more ties could improve. “When people talk to each other one-to-one… we are able to communicate and open our hearts to each other.”
Fewer than 600 people, including relatives of war dead, took part in the state ceremony on Saturday, compared to more than 6,000 last year. The seats were spaced out and a musical performance replaced the singing of the national anthem.
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski and Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Additional reports from Ju-min Park and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Edited by William Mallard
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