The new Japanese emperor spoke Thursday of 'deep remorse' over his country's wartime past, in his first speech to commemorate the end of World War II since his enthronement in May.
Emperor Naruhito's comments were being monitored in Tokyo and throughout Asia for any change in tone but he closely echoed the language employed by his father, Emperor Akihito.
'Looking back on the long peaceful years after the war, reflecting on our past, and bearing in mind the feeling of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the devastation of war will never be repeated,' said the 59-year-old Naruhito.
During the 74 years since the end of the war, the peace and prosperity of our country today has been built through the tireless efforts of the people. 'Yet when I think of their past full of suffering, I am truly overcome with deep emotion,' Emperor Naruhito told the solemn ceremony in central Tokyo, which also featured a minute's silence for the war dead.
Meanwhile, the conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe, shied away from visiting a controversial shrine that commemorates war dead, including convicted war criminals, that has become a flashpoint with Japan's neighbours, especially China and South Korea.
This year's ceremonies came as Tokyo and South Korea, one of the countries that suffered most from Japan's wartime atrocities, are embroiled in a war of words over trade and history.
During a speech to mark Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 rule, its President, Mr. Moon Jae-in, however struck a conciliatory tone, offering to 'join hands' if Tokyo chooses dialogue.