Japan marks 70 years since end of WWII

2015-08-15 14:29
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko offer silence prayers before the altar during the annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo. (Toru Yamanaka, AFP)

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko offer silence prayers before the altar during the annual memorial service for war victims in Tokyo. (Toru Yamanaka, AFP)

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Tokyo - Japan on Saturday marks 70 years since the end of WWII, with dozens of politicians expected to visit a Tokyo shrine seen by neighbouring countries as a potent symbol of the country's warring past.

The memorials come a day after nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a closely watched war anniversary speech that expressed regret but also said future generations need not apologise for Japan's war record.

Abe is not expected to visit the leafy Yasukuni shrine after a late 2013 visit drew an angry response from Beijing and Seoul, as well as rebuke from close ally Washington.

Local media said he would give a ritual offering instead.

Later on Saturday, Emperor Akihito, the son of wartime Emperor Hirohito, will deliver a speech with Abe and other cabinet ministers present.

Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians every August 15 - the anniversary of Japan's WWII surrender - enrage neighbouring nations, which view them as an insult and a painful reminder of Tokyo's aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including a brutal 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula.

The 145-year-old Shinto shrine honours some 2.5 million citizens who died in WWII and other conflicts, along with 14 indicted war criminals including General Hideki Tojo, who authorised the attack on Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war.

They were secretly added to the Yasukuni honour list in 1978. This only became public knowledge the following year.

Senior politicians who visit insist they are doing what their counterparts in most other countries do when honouring fallen soldiers.

Many ordinary people go to pay their respects to relatives and friends who died in combat.

Japanese nationalists, including Abe, like to argue that Yasukuni is no different than the US National Cemetery at Arlington.

But unlike Arlington, Yasukuni promotes a view of history that many find unpalatable.

The attached museum portrays Japan more as a victim of US aggression in WWII and makes scant reference to the extreme brutality of invading Imperial troops when they stormed through Asia - especially China and Korea - in the 20th century.

Only 15 premiers since WWII - about half - have paid respects at the shrine and just a half dozen have gone since the war criminals were added to the list in the late seventies. Prior to Abe, the last was sitting premier to visit was Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.

The current emperor has never visited.

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