Tokyo, Japan (BBN)-Japan marked 70 years on Saturday since the end of World War Two but faced criticism from South Korea and China, which accused it of failing to properly atone for its actions during the war.
At a memorial service in Tokyo, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito observed a minute’s silence, reports BBC.
Abe had expressed “profound grief” on Friday over Japan’s role in the war.
But South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the Japanese premier’s remarks “left much to be desired”.
Speaking on Saturday at a ceremony in Seoul, Ms Park called on Mr Abe to reiterate Japan’s apologies for abuses during its wartime occupations of neighbouring countries.
“History can never be covered up. History remains alive through its witnesses’ vivid testimony,” she said.
Japan’s surrender to the allies on 15 August 1945 freed the then-unified Korea from 35 years of occupation, leading Koreans to celebrate the date as Liberation Day.
Park also called on Japan to resolve, “at the earliest possible date”, the issue of so-called “comfort women” – Asian women forced to work as sex slaves for the military in Japanese wartime brothels.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, centre, gives three cheers for her country during a ceremony to celebrate Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule in 1945
South Korean President Park Geun-hye led cheers to celebrate Korean Liberation Day
Abe stopped short of issuing a fresh apology this year to victims of Japanese aggression, saying that future Japanese generations should not be “predestined to apologise” for their country’s wartime actions.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said on Saturday that Japan should have made a “sincere apology to the people of victim countries … rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle”.
Speaking at the ceremony in Tokyo, Abe said Japan’s war dead “sacrificed their life for the future and the prosperity of our homeland”.
“Their sacrifice was the foundation of today’s prosperity and we shall never forget their contribution. We always reflect the past and we hate the horror of the war,” he said.
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Japanese Emperor Akihito also spoke at the ceremony in Tokyo, striking a more apologetic tone than Mr Abe with an expression of “deep remorse” for the nation’s wartime aggression.
Abe did not visit Japan’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine this year, as he has in previous years, although there will be commemorations at the site.
Koichi Hagiuda, a member or parliament and aide to Mr Abe, visited the shrine with a cash offering on behalf of the prime minister.
“I paid respects to the souls of those who sacrificed their precious lives in the past war,” Mr Hagiuda said.
The shrine has been criticised by China and South Korea because along with Japan’s war dead it honours leaders who were later convicted of war crimes.
Why are Japan’s apologies forgotten?
Why is Japan’s WW2 surrender still a sensitive subject?
As well as commemorations that seek to consign wartime atrocities to the past, there will be events that highlight ongoing tensions in the region.
Thousands of South Korean protesters are expected to hold an anti-Japanese rally on Saturday. This past week a Korean protester set fire to himself outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
And in North Korea, clocks were set back 30 minutes on Saturday to so-called Pyongyang time to remove the country from a shared timezone established under Japanese colonial rule.
In 1995, then-Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a landmark apology for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression”.
His sentiments were repeated 10 years later by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.