Japan's Emperor on first visit to Pacific battlefield

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The Independent Online

The Japanese Emperor made an unprecedented visit to the site of a Second World War battle on the Pacific island of Saipan.

Emperor Akihito and his wife's trip to the former Japanese colony, which is now a US territory, came amid tensions with China and Korea over Japan's perceived failure to apologise for wartime atrocities.

It is estimated that 21,000 Japanese soldiers, 12,000 civilians and 3,500 US troops died during almost a month of fighting on the island. Emperor Akihito told a meeting of former Japanese soldiers that his first visit to an overseas battle field represented "a solemn wish for world peace".

Tensions between Japan and China and Korea have been exacerbated by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual pilgrimage to a shrine in Tokyo where war criminals are enshrined among other war dead. China has demanded that Mr Koizumi halt his visits.

Emperor Akihito was due to offer prayers at Banzai Cliff, so called because of the shouts of banzai, representing a cheer wishing long life to the Emperor, made by Japanese as they committed suicide rather than face capture by the American troops. The royal couple also plan to place wreaths at monuments to the US troops and the local islanders who were killed.