Emperor Naruhito expressed ‘deep remorse’ over Japan’s actions during World War II in a sombre ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the country’s unconditional surrender on Saturday.
But Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, whose government has increasingly sought to minimise Japan’s brutal past, chose to avoid making apologies, though he promised to never repeat the tragedy.
Naruhito, who succeeded to the throne upon the abdication of his father Akihito last year, has pledged to follow in his father’s footsteps in seeking to make amends for a war of aggression ostensibly fought in the name of his grandfather Hirohito. His role is purely ceremonial – one of the conditions imposed on Japan in the wake of its surrender.
But Abe has followed a different course, breaking an annual tradition started by his predecessors in 1995 by refusing to acknowledge Japanese war crimes in his 15 August speeches.
He did avoid paying a visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead but is particularly controversial for also enshrining a number of convicted war criminals, including 14 Class A war criminals. Consequently, political visits to the shrine are a source of controversy which generally attract condemnation China and South Korea.
Nevertheless, the Japanese PM sent an offering to the shrine, and four members of his Cabinet paid a visit.