Japan and South Korea marked 70 years since the end of World War II, when Japan’s surrender to the allies liberated Korea from 35 years of occupation.
A minute’s silence was observed at a ceremony held in Tokyo attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye spoke at a Seoul ceremony to mark her country’s liberation from the Japanese.
Akihito expressed “deep remorse” over the conflict, a departure from his annual script which could be seen as a subtle rebuke of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Akihito, 81, said at a memorial service on the anniversary of the day his father, Hirohito, announced Japan’s defeat: “Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people, express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war, and pray for world peace and the further prosperity of our country.”
The soft-spoken Akihito has often urged Japan not to forget the suffering of the war and tried to promote reconciliation with Asian countries. His comments have attracted increased attention at a time when Abe appears to be pushing for a less apologetic tone towards Japan’s past.
Akihito had expressed remorse previously but not at the annual service. The emperor is banned by the constitution from any political role, so his remarks need to be carefully nuanced.
South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, said Abe’s Friday speech contained “regrettable elements”, but she did not elaborate.
Park said she would focus on his remarks Japan would uphold statements of apology made by previous cabinets over the country’s wartime conduct.
She said she hoped Tokyo would resolve issues regarding honour and dignity of Korean girls and women forced work in Japan’s military brothels during the second world war.
On Saturday, Abe sent a ritual cash offering to Yasukuni Shrine for war dead but did not visit the shrine, seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime militarism.
“I paid respects to the souls of those who sacrificed their precious lives in the past war,” his aide, Koichi Hagiuda, a lawmaker in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters, adding he was visiting on behalf of Abe as party president.
Haruko Arimura, the minister in charge of women’s empowerment,too visited the shrine, according to Kyodo news agency.