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Japanese Emperor Visits World War II Battle Site


Japan's Emperor Akihito, right, and Empress Michiko smile as they are welcomed on arrival at Saipan international airport
Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife landed Monday on Saipan, a small island in the Pacific Ocean that was briefly part of the Japanese empire.

Sixty-years ago, Saipan became the site of one of the decisive battles of World War II.

More than 43,000 Japanese soldiers and around 5,000 U.S. soldiers died during the nearly month-long battle. Another 12,000 civilians also died, some of them committing suicide rather than risk capture. The U.S. victory helped pave the way to Japan's final defeat.

The emperor's trip comes as tensions are rising between Japan and its neighbors, which claim Japan has never adequately apologized for its wartime aggression and continues to gloss over the actions of its soldiers.

Before leaving Japan, the emperor said that during his two days in Saipan he would pay tribute to all of the war's victims, and pray for world peace.

But political analyst Steven Reed of Tokyo's Chuo University said the emperor's visit is unlikely to have any impact on Japanese attitudes toward the country's past. "I bet it has none. We will see, but I do not expect it to have any. Twenty or 30-years ago it would have been a big thing, but now only politicians care about this issue," he said.

Around three quarters of Saipan's 500,000 annual tourists come from Japan, and the island retains strong ties to the country that ruled it in one form or another between 1919 and 1945.

But Tokyo has reportedly discouraged any overt displays of pro-Japanese sentiment during the visit. Japanese media report that local residents were asked not to wave flags during the imperial couple's arrival.

A few local Korean groups say they will protest the emperor's decision not to visit a monument dedicated to Korean war dead. Otherwise local and regional reaction has been fairly muted.

Three-months ago, thousands of protesters took to the streets in several Chinese cities in sometimes-violent displays of anti-Japanese sentiment. Japan also has on-going disputes over a variety of issues with South Korea, North Korea and Taiwan.

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