Prime minister Shinzo Abe has stayed away from a contentious shrine that honours war criminals among other casualties as Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Mr Abe instead prayed and laid flowers at a national cemetery for unnamed fallen soldiers before the annual ceremony at Tokyo’s Budokan hall.
That ceremony started with a moment of silence at noon, marking the late Emperor Hirohito’s radio announcement of Japan’s surrender on August15 1945.
His son, Emperor Akihito, made his own speech in which he emphasised that Japan’s peace and prosperity stood on “the people’s tireless endeavours and their earnest desire for peace” and renewed his “deep remorse” over the war.
Mr Abe also spoke and thanked the spirits of the war dead for their sacrifice. Without it, Japan could not have achieved peace and prosperity today, he said.
On Friday, Mr Abe issued a closely-monitored statement on the eve of the anniversary, acknowledging damage and suffering on innocent people, but falling short of apologising in his own words to the victims of Japan’s aggression.
He donated Shinto-style religious ornaments for the Yasukuni shrine, as he has done in the past since his last visit in December 2013 that triggered uproar from China and South Korea. However, two of his Cabinet ministers prayed at the shrine, and separately, a group of about 60 MPs also visited.
The MPs say they merely want to pay respect to those who sacrificed their lives for their country. But because Yasukuni mostly enshrines soldiers, many see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.