The politics of history and grief: Japan’s Emperor offers remorse for World War II crimes


A day after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he felt utmost grief but did not apologise for the war crimes committed by Japan, the country’s Emperor Akihito, on August 15, said that he feels ‘deep remorse’ for his country’s wartime behaviour. He was speaking on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s ‘Second World War’ surrender. “On this day to commemorate the war dead and pray for peace, my thoughts are with the people who lost their precious lives and their bereaved families. 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,” he added.

Media reports said that the remarks made at the ceremony were identical to those made during the previous years. But the addition of ‘deep remorse’ was a visible shift from the previous stand. Some say it was a subtle dig at Mr Abe’s speech a day before the ceremony.

Mr Abe had said that he felt utmost grief but did not apologise for the war crimes committed by Japan. “I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternally sincere condolences,” Abe said in a carefully worded, 25-minute speech broadcast live on national television on August 14.

China has decided to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan on September 3 and has invited many countries of the world, including India, to participate. While India has not confirmed its attendance, it is most likely to attend the event since it attended the one recently held in Russia. India’s growing relations with Japan will be given due consideration while taking a decision.

While on one hand the Japanese emperor’s move shows Japan has still not forgotten the consequences it paid for the war, it has also moderated its stand to an extent through Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is a hardened nationalist. He has made his displeasure and frustration clear at calls for Japan to apologise for its past mistakes. China’s growing assertion and dominance in the Pacific has already made the environment hostile. With the decision to host an event marking 70 years of the occasion, Beijing may just have further added the pressure on Tokyo to come to terms with the changing realities in the region and the world.

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