Emperor Akihito, in his last appearance as reigning monarch at an annual ceremony marking Japan’s World War II surrender, expressed “deep remorse” on Wednesday over the conflict.
Early in the day, Akihito sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead but
did not visit out of apparent consideration for ties with South Korea and China.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine have outraged China and South Korea because it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead.
China’s relations with Japan have long been haunted by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, although ties have thawed recently.
Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945 and bitter memories rankle.
A silver-haired Akihito, 84, who will abdicate next year, spoke at the memorial for war dead after a moment of silence.
“Thinking of the peaceful times that have extended for many years after the war, reflecting on our past and with a feeling of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” said Akihito, who was accompanied by a kimono-clad Empress Michiko.
Akihito has carved out a role as a symbol of peace, democracy and reconciliation during his three decades on the throne, visiting wartime battlefields to pray for the dead of all nationalities.
His remarks on Wednesday echoed those he first spoke on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, which were seen by many liberals and moderate conservatives as a subtle rebuke to Abe, who has said future generations should not have to keep apologising for the conflict.
“I will humbly face the past and resolutely uphold this promise,” the prime minister said on Wednesday.
In Beijing, the foreign ministry said, “The Yasukuni Shrine enshrines Class A war criminals who were directly responsible for the war of aggression.
“We firmly oppose the wrong practices of the Japanese side,” the ministry said in a statement.