Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed his country would never again wage war during a ceremony on the anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat.
In Kishida’s first address since taking office in October, he promised Japan would “never again repeat the horrors of war” at a somber ceremony on Monday which marked the 77th anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.
“I will continue to live up to this determined oath,” Kishida said. “In a world where conflicts are still unabated, Japan, under the banner of proactive pacifism, will do its utmost to work together with the international community to resolve the various challenges facing the world.”
In his speech, Kishida highlighted the damages Japan has suffered from the U.S. atomic bombings during World War II, and he said that the prosperity that Japan has today is due to the sacrifices of those who died in the war.
The anniversary is traditionally marked by visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates those who died in service of Japan, including 14 wartime leaders who were convicted as war criminals. The visits, which often spark disputes, are viewed by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Although Kishida did not visit the shrine, he reportedly sent a religious ornament, as he also did in 2021, as an offering instead. Three of his cabinet members, including Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, decided to visit the shrine.
“I paid respects to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for the national policy,” Takaichi reportedly told reporters, while also noting her prayer for the end of the war in Ukraine.
“In any country, it is natural to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives to their nation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno reportedly said, defending the visits. “There is no change to Japan’s policy of strengthening its ties with its neighbors China and South Korea.”
However, the shrine visits continue to spark criticism from China and South Korea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wengbin said Japan needs to “deeply reflect” on its history and to gain the trust of its Asian neighbors by acting responsibly.
“Some Japanese political figures frequently distort and glorify the history of aggression in various ways, and openly violate the Cairo Declaration and other important legal documents that clearly provide for the return of Taiwan to China,” Wang said.
In South Korea, officials have expressed “deep disappointment” towards the shrine visits, which they believe beautifies Japan’s past invasions.
“The Korean government is urging Japan’s responsible people to face history and show humble reflection and genuine reflection on the past through action,” a spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly said in a statement.
The day also marks the National Liberation Day of Korea, a holiday that is celebrated in both North and South Korea. It annually commemorates Victory over Japan Day, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union restored Korea’s independence after 35 years of Japanese rule.