Japan to mark 75th WW2 anniversary in scaled-back ceremony amid COVID-19

TOKYO: Japan will mark the 75th anniversary of its World War Two surrender on Saturday (Aug 15) in a memorial ceremony scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as ties with neighbours China and South Korea remain haunted by the conflict’s legacy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who with Emperor Naruhito was set to attend an official ceremony at an indoor arena, was expected separately to send a ritual offering to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine but avoid a personal visit that would anger Seoul and Beijing.

Abe’s December 2013 visit to Yasukuni, which honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal as well as war dead, outraged the neighbours, which view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression. Abe has not gone in person since but sent offerings via an aide.

The United States and Japan have become staunch security allies in the decades since the war’s end.

But Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, still resent Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula, while China has bitter memories of Imperial troops’ invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945.

Japan’s ties with South Korea especially are strained by a row over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japan’s wartime mines and factories, as well as over “comfort women”, as those made to work in Japanese military brothels are euphemistically known.

READ: Japan faces World War II anniversary in shadow of COVID-19

Consensus over the war remains elusive within Japan.

Last year Naruhito, grandson of wartime Emperor Hirohito and Japan’s first monarch born after the war, expressed “deep remorse” over the conflict at the ceremony, the first since he inherited the throne after his father, Akihito, abdicated.

Abe, who has adopted a less apologetic stance toward the war, pledged last year “never again to repeat the devastation of war” but did not echo the emperor’s words of remorse.

Markers indicating social distancing for visitors are displayed on the approach to the main shrine
Markers indicating social distancing for visitors are displayed on the approach to the main shrine of Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead, in Tokyo

About 530 people, including relatives of war dead, are expected to take part in the state-sponsored, secular ceremony, down from more than 6,000 last year.

Everyone, including Naruhito and Empress Masako, must wear masks, seats will be at least one metre apart and a musical performance will replace singing of the national anthem.

Naruhito’s public appearance on Saturday will be his first since a February news conference marking his birthday, as the virus outbreak has kept him and Empress Masako at home.