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Memorial ceremony for Japan's war dead held amid shifts in postwar pacifist policy

A woman visits a memorial in Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo to remember Japan's war dead, on Aug. 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

The Imperial Couple, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and about 6,700 others attended the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan on Aug. 15, commemorating the 72nd anniversary of World War II's end.

During his speech at the ceremony to remember the some 3.1 million Japanese who lost their lives in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, Emperor Akihito mentioned "feelings of deep remorse" for the third war-end anniversary in a row. He also said that he and the Japanese people "pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country."

In his remarks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed determination not to repeat the horrors of war, but also continued his past pattern of leaving out any statement of remorse for the damage inflicted on Asian countries by Japan. Abe also did not explicitly renounce war.

The ceremony began at just before noon and, after the prime minister's speech, the attendees stood for a minute of silence at exactly 12 p.m.

A total of some 2.3 million Japanese military personnel and military employees died between the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the end of World War II in 1945, along with about 800,000 Japanese civilians.

The Imperial Couple, bottom, look on as Hajime Watanabe reads a speech on behalf of the surviving family of Japanese people killed in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, during the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Aug. 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

This was the first memorial ceremony since the special law allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate was passed in June, and he may step down at the end of 2018 or in March 2019. However, he is expected to attend the memorial ceremony next year.

The 72nd anniversary of the war's end also comes amid major shifts in Japan's postwar pacifist policies, following the March 2016 enforcement of security-related legislation allowing Japan exercise of the right to collective self-defense, and Prime Minister Abe's remarks in May this year that he was aiming to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the country's Constitution.

After the dive in public support for the previous iteration of the Abe Cabinet, it now appears difficult for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to submit constitutional revision proposals to the autumn extraordinary Diet session as originally planned. However, attention is focussed on how the government and ruling parties will tackle the shifting strategic situation in Asia, including North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, a total of 5,225 family members aged 6 to 101 were scheduled to attend the event, 2,789 of whom were children of the war dead. A total of 394 participants were siblings of the dead, and 380 were grandchildren. Just six, or a mere 0.1 percent of attendees, were wives of those who died in the war -- the lowest figure ever. Meanwhile, a new high of 1,339 participants, or 25.6 percent, were born after the war.

A statement on behalf of a surviving family was read at the ceremony by 83-year-old Hajime Watanabe, a resident of Buzen, Fukuoka Prefecture, whose father was killed during the war in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Chrysanthemums for the dead were laid at the on-stage memorial by 14 family members aged 18 and under.

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