Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged never to “repeat the tragedy of war” as commemorations marking VJ Day — the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Asia — got underway Saturday.
With many events muted this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, a somber Abe wore a face mask as he told the scaled back crowd gathered at a ceremony at the Nippon Budokan hall in the country’s capital Tokyo, that Japan would “continue to remain committed to this resolute pledge,” although he stopped short of any apology.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito also expressed his “deep remorse” over the wartime past, which still haunts East Asia.
Abe also sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead, but he avoided a personal visit that would anger China and South Korea. The shrine is seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression.
But a handful of Japanese ministers along with thousands of their countrymen braved scorching heat and the COVID-19 pandemic to pay their respects at Yasukuni.
VJ Day, or Victory over Japan day, comes three months after Nazi Germany surrendered in Europe, and generally receives less attention than Victory in Europe, or VE Day, on May 8.
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But more than 30 million soldiers and civilians were killed in the Pacific theater during the war, compared with the 15 million to 20 million who died in Europe.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 100,000 to 200,000 people.
Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan’s colonization of the peninsula. Relations are particularly strained over so-called “comfort women,” Korean women made to work in Japanese military brothels at the time.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Saturday that Seoul was always ready to discuss history disputes with Tokyo.
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China also has bitter memories of occupation of parts of the country from 1931 to 1945 and thousands chose to mark the 75th anniversary by flocking to the cinema on Friday night to watch “The Eight Hundred,” according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
The movie tells the story of Chinese soldiers’ defense of a warehouse against the Japanese army during the Battle of Shanghai in 1937 and the often-hawkish tabloid said the film served as a reminder to China that Japan had “historically brought great misery to the Chinese people” and that both countries should learn from history.
Australians also commemorated the day, in socially distanced ceremonies.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison laid a wreath at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, with a small group of veterans.
In Britain too, Queen Elizabeth and the royal family marked the anniversary. Prince Philip was serving in the Royal Navy in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrender was signed in 1945.
“Those of us who remember the conclusion of the Far East campaign, whether on active service overseas, or waiting for news at home, will never forget the jubilant scenes and over whelming sense of relief,” the queen said in a statement.
“Amongst the joy at the end of the conflict, we also remembered, as we do today, the terrible devastation that it brought, and the cost borne by so many.”
Reuters contributed to this report.