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Abe presents wreath for fallen U.S. soldiers in Honolulu

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers a wreath of flowers at The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Dec. 26, 2016. (Pool photo)

HONOLULU -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid a wreath at the grave site of U.S. military personnel in Honolulu on Dec. 26 local time, a day ahead of his visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor -- a gesture of reconciliation between two countries that fought against each other during World War II.

Abe landed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in a Japanese government plane earlier in the day, and then traveled to The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, or "Punchbowl," where American soldiers and others who perished during Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor lay buried.

In light rain, Abe laid a wreath on a stand and observed a moment of silence. In a guest book at the site, he wrote "Shinzo Abe." The prime minister also laid flowers at the grave of former U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, who fought in the war in Europe as a member of an infantry regiment consisting of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, paying respects to a figure who worked to strengthen relations between the United States and Japan.

Accompanying Abe during his visit were Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. Abe is not the first Japanese prime minister to visit the cemetery. The site was also visited by Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, in 1957. The most recent visit by a Japanese prime minister was by Yoshihiko Noda in 2011.

Abe later visited a Japanese cemetery in the Makiki area of Honolulu, where many people of Japanese ancestry formerly lived. He presented flowers at a monument dedicated to soldiers who died of illness when an Imperial Japanese Navy vessel made a port call in Hawaii prior to World War II. The memorial also commemorates Japanese soldiers who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. His visit, first to a memorial dedicated to the war dead in the U.S., and then to the Japanese war dead, underscored a resolve to avoid war.

Abe additionally visited the Ehime Maru Memorial marking the deaths of nine people aboard the Ehime Maru, a training ship from Uwajima Fisheries High School that was struck by a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine in an incident off Oahu, Hawaii, in 2001.

"It was an incident that occurred when I was deputy chief cabinet secretary, and I remember it well," Abe said. During his visit to the memorial, he was accompanied by Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda from Japan, as well as Hawaii Gov. David Ige, and U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez.

Abe will hold his last bilateral talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, who leaves office in January next year, on Dec. 27 (Dec. 28 Japanese time). He will then visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which stands above the submerged hull of the battleship that was sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on Pearl Harbor. It will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to the offshore memorial. The historic visit comes 75 years after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

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