Japan's Prime Minister marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II with a statement, approved by the Cabinet, containing an apology. But in a nationally televised address at a memorial ceremony, Junichiro Koizumi's words were more muted in the presence of Japan's emperor.
Exactly 60 years to the minute after his father announced Japan's surrender, Emperor Akihito bowed his head for 60 seconds of silent prayer at a national memorial ceremony.
The emperor and Empress Michiko stood facing a large arrangement of yellow and white chrysanthemums, where the emperor read a brief statement.
Emperor Akihito said looking back on history he "ardently hopes the horrors of war will never be repeated."
The ceremony paid tribute to the 2.3 million Japanese soldiers and army civilian personnel, as well as the 800,000 Japanese civilians, who died in the Pacific War.
More than 7,000 people, ranging in age from six to 95, attended the event in a downtown Tokyo indoor arena.
The ceremony began with the attendees facing the imperial couple and singing Japan's national anthem, which calls for the reign of the emperor to continue for eight thousand generations.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in the ceremony aired live on national television, said the human lives lost and the wartime destruction must never be forgotten, and should serve as a lesson for peace. Mr. Koizumi said Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially its Asian neighbors.
But he refrained from using the more sorrowful language contained in a statement issued in his name earlier in the day. In that statement the prime minister expressed his "deep reflections and heartfelt apologies" for the destruction.
The words are very similar to an apology issued on the 50th anniversary of the war's end by Socialist prime minister Tomiichi Murayama. That 1995 statement was criticized by many Asians as lacking in appropriate remorse.
Mr. Koizumi on Monday decided to forego the annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni Shrine, avoiding a diplomatic firestorm during a domestic election campaign. But at least one of his Cabinet ministers, and more than 100 other lawmakers, did visit the controversial Shinto shrine.
Asian nations see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's imperialism, contending it glorifies the country's brutal colonization of the region and the war waged by Tokyo.
Instead, Mr. Koizumi offered flowers at the tomb for the unknown war dead at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.
This year's anniversary comes at a contentious time in Japan's relations with its former colonies, including China and the two Koreas. Japan is perceived as moving back toward the right because of the introduction of nationalist textbooks that gloss over the country's wartime atrocities.
There are also rising objections to the Tokyo War Crimes Trials between 1946 and 1948, which resulted in the international military tribunal handing down seven death sentences. In an editorial on Monday, Japan's largest circulation newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri, said there are lingering doubts about the nature of the trial and it "may be advisable for the Japanese people to reconsider who bears responsibility for the war."