Akihito holds back on Pearl Harbor apology

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TOKYO (Reuter) - Japan's Emperor Akihito said yesterday that the Second World War would be heavy on his heart when he toured Hawaii at the end of his state visit to the United States beginning next week. But Akihito, 60, speaking at a rare news conference about the 10-26 June trip, stopped short of an apology on the Pearl Harbor attack, saying he was not in a position to comment on whether Japan's surprise raid could be justified.

Initially, Akihito was to be the first Japanese emperor to visit Pearl Harbor. Last month, Tokyo changed the venue to the National Pacific War Cemetery near the US naval base after coming under fierce right-wing criticism that a visit to Pearl Harbor could be construed as an apology for Japan's attack.

'It is very important to understand historical truths correctly, but because of my position, I must refrain from touching on this kind of subject,' Akihito said in reply to a question on Pearl Harbor.

Many Japanese historians and lawmakers argue that Japan was forced to attack because of a US oil embargo and a virtual ultimatum. President Franklin Roosevelt called it a 'day of infamy'.

Akihito also did not reply directly to a question on whether his late father, Hirohito, was responsible for the war. 'Emperor Showa (Hirohito) always thought of peace above anything else, and to uphold the constitution. He did have a difficult time,' he said.

Akihito said his heart aches at the thought of war victims. 'The fact that a great many people were killed, injured or went through suffering does not go away from my heart even if time passes. I shall keep this in mind when I visit Hawaii,' he said.

Empress Michiko, 59, has mostly recovered from an earlier medical condition that had affected her ability to speak. 'I apologise for having made everybody worried and I give heartfelt thanks to all the people who encouraged me,' she said.