Japan emperor offers 'remorse' on WWII surrender anniversary

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Asia Remembers 70th Anniversary of the End of World War Two

TOKYO (AP) — Emperor Akihito expressed rare "deep remorse" over his country's wartime actions in an address Saturday marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, a day after the prime minister fell short of apologizing in his own words to the victims of Japanese aggression.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, stayed away from a contentious Yasukuni shrine that honors war criminals among other war dead. He instead prayed and laid flowers at a national cemetery for unnamed fallen soldiers ahead of the annual ceremony at Tokyo's Budokan hall.

That ceremony started with a moment of silence at noon to mark the radio announcement by Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father, of Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

"Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated," Akihito said in his speech. Japanese media said it was the first time he had used the words "deep remorse" in reference to the war.

Japan PM Abe marks the end of WWII:

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Japan emperor offers 'remorse' on WWII surrender anniversary
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accompanied by his wife Akie, left, prays at his ancestors' grave in Nagato, western Japan, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Later in the day Abe expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. Abe acknowledged in the statement delivered live on national television that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in the war. He also expressed apologies for Japan's actions. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Abe has expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Abe has expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. Abe acknowledged that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in the war. He also expressed apologies for Japan's actions. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Abe has expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, accompanied by his wife Akie, speaks to his supporters as he pays a visit to his ancestors' grave in Nagato, western Japan, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Later in the day Abe expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. Abe acknowledged in the statement delivered live on national television that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in the war. He also expressed apologies for Japan'sactions. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via AP)
Journalists rush to get a copy of a statement to be addressed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II before Abe delivers the statement at a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Abe has expressed "profound grief" for all who perished in World War II in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A man watches a television news program reporting about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Abe acknowledged Friday that Japan had inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in World War II, but stopped short of apologizing again in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s surrender. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A woman prays during a memorial for Taiwan's "comfort women" who were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese imperial army during the World War II on the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. In a statement marking the anniversary of Japan's surrender, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged Friday that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in World War II, but stopped short of offering his own apology and said future generations of Japanese should not have to make them either. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Two women give a speech during a memorial for Taiwan's "comfort women" who were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese imperial army during the World War II on the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. In a statement marking the anniversary of Japan's surrender, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged Friday that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in World War II, but stopped short of offering his own apology and said future generations of Japanese should not have to make them either. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
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Akihito also emphasized that Japan's peace and prosperity stand on "the people's tireless endeavors and their earnest desire for peace," and renewed his war-renouncing pledge.

Even though they are subtle and still rather neutral, remarks by the emperor on Japan's wartime past in recent years have caught attention, often portrayed in the media to contrast Abe's nationalist and hawkish image, especially as he pushes to give Japan's military an expanded role and change Japan's pacifist constitution.

On Friday, Abe issued a closely monitored statement on the eve of the anniversary, acknowledging damage and suffering on innocent people but falling short of apologizing in his own words to the victims of Japan's aggression.

Abe donated Shinto-style religious ornaments for the shrine, as he has done in the past since his last visit in December 2013, which triggered uproar from China and South Korea. However, two of his Cabinet ministers prayed at the shrine, and a group of about 60 national lawmakers also visited Yasukuni.

The lawmakers 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.

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