1 of 5 | Japan's Emperor Naruhito led a ceremony honoring the nation's war dead on the 78th anniversary of its surrender in World War II. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Japan remembered those who died in World War II on Tuesday, the 78th anniversary of when it officially surrendered from the conflict.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako led a national moment of silence at Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo to honor the country's 2.4 million war dead -- including 800,000 civilians.
"Looking back on the long period of post-war peace, reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never again be repeated," Naruhito said in his address. "Together with all 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 developments of our country."
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as a ritual during his term, chose not to pray at the sanctuary that honors those who died in military service to Japan but continues to be viewed by Japan's neighbors as a symbol of the country's past aggressions, instead sending an offering.
Unlike Kishida, economic security minister Sanae Takaichi did visit the shrine Tuesday along with policy chief Koichi Hagiuda and other former ministers of the Liberal Democratic Party -- marking the fourth consecutive year that Japanese cabinet officials prayed at the site to commemorate the 78 years that have passed since August 15, 1945.
Previous visits to the shrine by top officials -- including a high-profile appearance by former prime minister Shinzo Abe in December 2013 -- have heightened tensions with China and South Korea due to the site's recognition of military figures who were convicted of war crimes following the war.
Kishida, who has largely avoided the same level of controversy during his term, instead laid flowers Tuesday at the nearby Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery during a quiet and personal tribute.
The prime minister paid for the offering with his own money, and used his title of leader of the Liberal Democratic Party when he signed for the package.
The government's annual memorial ceremony in Tokyo was attended by nearly 2,000 Japanese citizens, including aging veterans and a host of bereaved family members.
Since taking office in 2021, Kishida has made the annual "masakaki" offering by having it delivered to the shrine in lieu of any personal appearances.
In a statement Tuesday, South Korea's Foreign Ministry criticized Kishida for mailing the tribute, saying the prime minister's mere recognition of the site "glorifies Japan's past wars of aggression and enshrines war criminals."
In response, Kishida said Japan was "determined to work with the international community and do its utmost to resolve the various challenges facing the world."
Overall relations between Seoul and Tokyo were beginning to improve after decades of tensions due to Japan's refusal to compensate for forced colonial labor during the war, but South Korea continues to call on "responsible figures in Japan to face history squarely and to demonstrate humble reflection and genuine remorse for the past."
In June, Japan and South Korea agreed to reestablish currency exchanges as the frayed allies continued to emerge from a nearly decade-long breakdown in relations due to unresolved political tensions and territorial disputes.
In Beijing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Japan must take more responsibility for its past belligerence and crimes against humanity if it expects to normalize relations with other Asian powers in the region.
"Japanese politicians' negative performance regarding the shrine once again reflects Japan's wrong attitude toward history," Wenbin told reporters during a press conference. "We urge Japan to draw lessons from the history, stick to the path of peaceful development and take concrete actions to make a clean break with militarism, and avoid further losing the trust of its Asian neighbors and the international community."
Earlier this month, Japan marked the 78th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which killed an estimated to 74,000 people.
Japan's Emperor Naruhito (R) delivers his remarks with Empress Masako during the memorial service for those who died in World War II, marking the 78th anniversary of Japan's surrender, in Tokyo on August 15, 2023. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo