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By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters)

Emperor Akihito, in his last appearance as reigning monarch at an annual ceremony marking Japan’s World War Two surrender, expressed “deep remorse” on Wednesday over the conflict, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed no repeat of the horror of war

Early in the day, Abe sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead but did not visit out of apparent consideration for ties with South Korea and China.

 

Japan's Emperor Akihito (R) and Empress Michiko walk as they offer a moment of silence to the war dead during a memorial ceremony marking the the 73rd anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo
Japan’s Emperor Akihito (R) and Empress Michiko walk as they offer a moment of silence to the war dead during a memorial ceremony marking the the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

 

Past visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine have outraged China and South Korea because it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead.

China’s relations with Japan have long been haunted by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, although ties have thawed recently.

 

Men dressed as Japanese imperial army soldiers march in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
Men dressed as Japanese imperial army soldiers march in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945 and bitter memories rankle.

A silver-haired Akihito, 84, who will abdicate next year, spoke at the memorial for war dead after a moment of silence.

 

Members of a right wing group pay a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
Members of a right wing group pay a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

“Thinking of the peaceful times that have extended for many years after the war, reflecting on our past and with a feeling of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” said Akihito, who was accompanied by a kimono-clad Empress Michiko.

Akihito has carved out a role as a symbol of peace, democracy and reconciliation during his three decades on the throne, visiting wartime battlefields to pray for the dead of all nationalities.

 

A man wears a headband bearing Japan's national flag visits the Yasukuni shrine to pay respects to the country's war dead in Tokyo
A man wears a headband bearing Japan’s national flag as he visits the Yasukuni shrine to pay respects to the country’s war dead in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

His remarks on Wednesday echoed those he first spoke on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, which were seen by many liberals and moderate conservatives as a subtle rebuke to Abe, who has said future generations should not have to keep apologising for the conflict.

 

 

“I will humbly face the past and resolutely uphold this promise,” the prime minister said on Wednesday.

 

‘WRONG PRACTICES’

In Beijing, the foreign ministry said, “The Yasukuni Shrine enshrines Class A war criminals who were directly responsible for the war of aggression.

 

Visitors pray toward the Yasukuni Shrine ahead of Wednesday's anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two in Tokyo
Visitors pray toward the Yasukuni Shrine ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two in Tokyo, Japan August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

“We firmly oppose the wrong practices of the Japanese side,” the ministry said in a statement.

South Korea’s foreign ministry expressed “deep regret” over Abe’s sending of an offering to the shrine.

 

Visitors wearing same hats make their ways during their organized trip of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine ahead of Wednesday's anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two in Tokyo
Visitors wearing same hats make their ways during their organized trip of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two in Tokyo, Japan August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

“Our government urges Japan‘s political leaders to show a serious introspection and sincere attitude of self-reflection towards past history,” the ministry said in a statement.

Separately, a group of about 50 conservative Japanese lawmakers including Shinjiro Koizumi, the popular son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is often spoken of as a future premier, paid their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine.

 

A man pays a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
A man pays a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahiko Shibayama, who made the offering on Abe’s behalf, said the prime minister asked him to pray for the souls of the departed and that Abe regretted being unable to pay his respects in person.

Abe has only visited the shrine in person once since taking office in 2012.

 

A man holds a dove before releasing it as a symbol of peace at the Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead in Tokyo
A man holds a dove before releasing it as a symbol of peace at the Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

That December 2013 visit angered China and South Korea and prompted an expression of disappointment from ally the United States. Since then, he has sent offerings on Aug. 15 and Yasukuni’s twice-yearly festivals.

Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese fought World War Two, stopped visiting Yasukuni after the wartime leaders were first honoured by the shrine in 1978, and Akihito does not pay his respects there.

 

(Additional reporting by Mayuko Ono and Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)}

 

A man wearing Japan's national flag visits Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
A man wearing Japan’s national flag visits Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

Visitors pay tribute to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
Visitors pay tribute to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

A man dressed as a Japanese imperial army soldier sits near a gate to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
A man dressed as a Japanese imperial army soldier sits near a gate to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a memorial service ceremony marking the the 73rd anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a memorial service ceremony marking the the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

 

People pay a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
People pay a silent tribute to the war dead at noon in front of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2018, on the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

 

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