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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008
Fukuda sticks to neutral venues
Prime minister honors nation's war dead at nonreligious Budokan, Chidorigafuchi ceremonies
By MASAMI ITO
Speaking at the annual ceremony to commemorate Japan's war dead at Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Friday touched on the country's wartime responsibility to its neighbors and renewed the nation's pledge to never again wage war.
Friday marked the 63rd anniversary of the public radio address made by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Showa, announcing Japan's surrender, ending World War II.
Fukuda, echoing several of his predecessors, expressed "deep remorse" to all of the war dead, adding that Japan caused "tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."
Fukuda, widely known for his relatively dovish stance toward Asia, did not visit the contentious war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, which many parts of Asia in particular regard as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Instead, he attended the war dead commemoration ceremony and visited the religiously unaffiliated Chidorigafuchi war memorial, near Yasukuni, dedicated to unknown Japanese service members.
The national ceremony at Nippon Budokan Hall is held every Aug. 15 in honor of the 2.3 million Japanese service members and 800,000 Japanese civilians who died in the war, including those killed by massive U.S. air raids on major cities and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"We have not forgotten for even a moment that the peace and prosperity of today was created because of the sacred sacrifices of those who lost their precious lives in the war," Fukuda said during the ceremony.
Others in attendance included Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, lawmakers from various parties, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper.
"Looking back on history, I earnestly hope the horrors of war will not be repeated," the Emperor said.
"Together with the public, I pay a heartfelt tribute to those who lost their lives on the battlefield and fell in the ravages of war, and pray for world peace and further development of our country."
According to the health ministry, 4,579 relatives of the war dead attended the ceremony. More than 60 years after the war, their numbers are dwindling at the annual ceremony. Nearly half are 64 years old or older.
The oldest living relative is 95 years old but asks that his name be withheld. The youngest are two 9-year-old great-grandchildren of fallen servicemen.
During the ceremony, House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono urged the government to build a nonreligious war memorial hall to replace Yasukuni Shrine.
In 2002, Fukuda himself proposed such a hall, while stressing it could coexist with Yasukuni, not replace it.
Fukuda's proposal, however, was shelved by conservative politicians who feared it would diminish the shrine's role.
"The government should seriously consider establishing a memorial facility that is not based on a particular religion and one where everyone can unite and pay tribute," Kono said. "Our nation and our neighboring countries still have unresolved issues related to history that have become a thorn and are causing friction."
Meanwhile, at a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government "does not need to take action" immediately to push for the alternative memorial facility.
Yasukuni Shrine, located in Chiyoda Ward, has become a cause of strain between Japan and neighboring parts of Asia in part because of the Class-A war criminals enshrined along with Japanese service members who died fighting for Japan.
Every year, the spotlight shines on the shrine and whether the prime minister and any of his Cabinet ministers will pay a visit.