Kishida marks 78th anniversary of World War II's end without mentioning Japan's wartime aggression

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed his peace pledge as Japan observed the 78th anniversary of its World War II defeat Tuesday

Mari Yamaguchi
Tuesday 15 August 2023 07:00 BST

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed his peace pledge Tuesday as Japan observed the 78th anniversary of its World War II defeat, but he did not mention the country’s wartime aggression in Asia, while three of his former and serving ministers visited a controversial shrine seen by neighboring countries as a symbol of militarism.

Japan will “stick to our resolve to never repeat the tragedy of the war,” Kishida said at the solemn ceremony in a speech that was almost identical to what he read last year.

Kishida did not mention Japanese aggression across Asia in the first half of the 1900s or its victims in the region, as with last year, following a precedent set by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013 in what was seen by his critics as a move to whitewash Japan’s wartime brutality.

Kishida stressed destruction on Japan's own land, including the U.S. atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, firebombings across Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa, and the sufferings of Japanese people. He said Japan will stick to its postwar peace pledge and will continue to cooperate with the world to tackle global issues.

Kishida has been pushing a significant buildup of Japan’s military under the new national and defense strategy that his government released in December, stressing the need to reinforce strike capability in a major break from Japan’s self-defense-only postwar principle. The shift allows closer military cooperation with its ally, the United States, as well as their Indo-Pacific partners, in the face of growing threats from China and North Korea.

Emperor Naruhito repeated his “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime actions in a carefully nuanced phrase in his speech, like his father. Emperor Emeritus Akihito devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the wartime emperor, Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.

Some 1,700 participants observed a minute of silence at noon during the ceremony held at the Budokan arena. The crowd was much smaller than the 5,000 who attended in years before the coronavirus pandemic, but dozens of representatives from 10 prefectures in central and western Japan also canceled their attendance Tuesday as a tropical storm crossed their region.

While Kishida on Tuesday stayed away from praying at the Yasukuni Shrine just a block away from the ceremony and sent a religious ornament instead, three of former and serving ministers of his Cabinet visited — Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, former Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and former Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda.

Victims of Japan's aggression during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism because it honors convicted war criminals among about 2.5 million war dead.

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