The ceremony held by the government at the Nippon Budokan hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, was the last of its kind in the Heisei era, as the current Emperor is set to abdicate on April 30 next year.
About 6,800 people, including the Imperial couple, bereaved relatives, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and representatives of various fields, attended the ceremony to commemorate the about 3.1 million war dead.
At noon, the participants observed a minute of silence. The Emperor then gave an address in which he used the phrase “deep remorse,” saying he was looking back on the long period of postwar peace. The Emperor first used that phrase in 2015, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and has now used it for the fourth straight year.
The Emperor has attended the ceremony every year together with the Empress since he assumed the throne in 1989. This was his 30th year of attendance.
Abe said in a speech at the ceremony: “We will never again repeat the devastation of war. Humbly facing history, we will remain committed to this resolute pledge, no matter what the era may bring.”
There has been a generational shift among the families of the war victims. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, no parents of the war dead were among the 5,455 family members attending the national ceremony, a situation seen for the eighth straight year.
The number of wives of war victims stood at 13 this year, compared to 3,269 at the 1989 ceremony. The number of children at this year’s ceremony was 2,864, while that of grandchildren was 451.
By age, attendees aged 80 and older accounted for 19.4 percent of the total, or 1,056 people, up 2.7 percentage points from the previous year. The number of attendees born after the war hit a record high of 1,554, making up 28.5 percent of the total. The oldest participant was 102 and the youngest was 2.
Harumi Serigano of Nerima Ward, Tokyo, who was the oldest participant in the ceremony for the second straight year, remembered her husband, who was killed in the Battle of Okinawa at the age of 31. “We must never repeat the war,” she said.
According to the ministry, 2.3 million Japanese military personnel and employees lost their lives from the start of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 to the end of World War II in 1945, as well as during internment in Siberia. The number of civilian deaths in the same period was about 800,000.
Peace wish gets new phrase
The Emperor underscored the importance of the “peace” that has lasted for 73 years since the end of World War II by adding a new phrase in his address at this year’s war-end anniversary, the last such occasion in the Heisei era.
The Emperor, who first attended the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead in 1989, after assuming the throne, has added new expressions for milestone anniversary years while adhering to remarks made by the late Emperor Showa.
He raised an alarm over the fading of memories of the war by including in his addresses the phrases “the ravages of war will never be repeated” at the 50th war-end anniversary in 1995, and “bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war” at the 70th anniversary in 2015.
The Emperor, who has consoled the souls of the war dead at battlefields in Japan and abroad together with the Empress since ascending the throne, has mentioned “peace” at ceremonies and press conferences more than 400 times.
During this year’s ceremony, the Emperor said the nation’s peace and prosperity have been brought about “thanks to the ceaseless effort made by people of Japan.” The newly added phrase of looking back on the long period of postwar peace has indicated his profound thoughts for the Heisei era, which has been built without a war, as well as his desire that peace will last through the next generation.