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Japanese gov't holds ceremony to mark 74th anniversary of end of WWII

Emperor Naruhito reads a message at a government-sponsored memorial ceremony for the war dead in which he participated for the first time since his enthronement, on the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II, alongside Empress Masako at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- A government-sponsored memorial ceremony for the war dead was held on Aug. 15 on the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II, at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.

Around 7,000 people, including Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and bereaved family members attended the ceremony to pray for the souls of some 3.1 million people who perished in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

People place their hands together in a tribute to the war dead at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

In his first address at the ceremony since his accession to the Imperial Throne in May, Emperor Naruhito stated, "Looking back on the long period of post-war peace" -- taking over a phrase that his father Emperor Emeritus Akihito used in last year's ceremony -- in expressing his hopes for peace.

Prime Minister Abe emphasized postwar Japan's path in tandem with world peace and prosperity, but once again stopped short of expressing his "condolences" for the war victims in Asian countries, which past prime ministers had included in their speeches at the annual ceremony.

"We will dedicate our utmost efforts toward resolving challenges faced by the world by joining hands with the international community," Abe said.

After attendees observed a minute of silence in honor of the war dead at the stroke of noon, Emperor Naruhito stated in reference to the past 74 years since the end of the war, "When I think of the paths full of hardships that were treaded by the people, I am truly filled with deep emotions." He also expressed his hopes for peace and no more wars by stating, "In reflecting on the past and based on deep remorse, I sincerely hope that the calamities of war will never be repeated."

Kokichi Morimoto, 77, a resident of Yokohama who lost his father to the battle on New Guinea Island, delivered an address on behalf of the bereaved families.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 5,391 bereaved family members aged between 4 and 97 were to attend the memorial ceremony. Of them, 51%, or 2,751 people, were children of the war dead, accounting for a majority for the 19th consecutive year since 2001. Meanwhile, the wives of the war dead numbered five, at 0.1%, a record low. The corresponding figure for 1989 had stood at 3,269, about half of the bereaved family members attending the ceremony. In that year, the number of attendees born after the war stood at 45, but the figure climbed to a record high of 1,650 this year, surpassing the 30% mark for the first time. This year's ceremony, the first since the new Imperial era of Reiwa set in, is characterized by a generational change among bereaved families.

The war dead memorial was dedicated to about 2.3 million soldiers and military workers as well as about 800,000 civilians who were killed in the Second Sino-Japanese War that broke out in 1937 and the ensuing World War II.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Sakai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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