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Imperial Couple, bereaved families pledge peace on 73rd anniv. of war's end

A woman prays for the war dead on Aug. 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of the end of World War II at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)
Emperor Akihito, left, addresses the annual memorial for the war dead as Empress Michiko stands beside him at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A government-organized annual memorial ceremony dedicated to the war dead was held at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, 73 years after the end of World War II. About 7,000 people, including Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and bereaved families of the fallen attended the ceremony to pray for the souls of some 3.1 million people who were killed in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

In his final address at the ceremony, Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate in April next year, added a new passage to last year's address -- "Looking back on the long period of post-war peace" -- and expressed his pledge for peace by using the words "deep remorse" for the fourth consecutive year since 2015, the 70th anniversary of the Second World War's end.

The ceremony began shortly before noon. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his sense of condolences to those killed in battle by saying, "We will not forget even for a moment that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today was built atop the precious sacrifices of the war dead." The prime minister also expressed his determination to "never again repeat the devastation of war" and to "tackle various issues that can become hotbeds of conflicts." He nevertheless did not mention Japan's responsibility for inflicting pain on its Asian neighbors nor offered an apology, and did not express a pledge of not ever waging war again.

After one minute of silence from noon, the Emperor said in his address, "my thoughts are with the numerous people who lost their precious lives in the last war and their bereaved families, as I attend this Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead with a deep and renewed sense of sorrow." He continued, "bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated. Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefields and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country."

The memorial was the last ceremony in the Heisei era, which began in 1989 and is scheduled to end in 2019 when the current Emperor will abdicate. During the nearly three decades, the main body of participants shifted from the wives of the fallen to their children. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the war dead who were born after the war are joining the ranks, and ways to pass on the memories of the war over generations are being examined.

According to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, people who were to attend this year's ceremony included 5,455 bereaved family members aged between 2 and 102. Of the total, children of the fallen number 2,864, becoming the largest group of its kind in the history of the memorial. Meanwhile, the wives of those killed, who numbered 3,269 and constituted about half of the participants in 1989, were just 13 this year. In 1989, there were only 45 bereaved family members who were born after the war's end at the ceremony, but they grew to a record 1,554. The last time parents of the fallen attended the ceremony was in 2010.

The war dead memorial was dedicated to about 2.3 million soldiers and military workers as well as about 800,000 civilians.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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