The city of Hiroshima has marked the 56th anniversary of the world's first atomic bombing. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who attended the memorial, reaffirmed Japan's commitment to a nuclear free world.
About 50,000 people, including atomic bombing survivors, their relatives and the prime minister of Japan - gathered for Monday's ceremony in Hiroshima's Peace Park.
The city's mayor took two books carrying the names of the dead and placed them under the monument to the victims of the Hiroshima attack.
Two children rang the peace bell at 8:15 a.m., the exact time when a U.S. warplane dropped the atomic bomb, the world's first nuclear attack.
Then all went silent on a hot summer day in Hiroshima as the living prayed for the dead, crying as they recalled the horrors and devastation of nuclear war. By the end of 1945, the atomic blast had killed almost 40 percent of people in the city in western Japan.
As incense burned on prayer altars, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stressed Japan's commitment to a nuclear free world.
Mr. Koizumi expressed his profound desire to never repeat the disaster of the atomic bomb, and pledged an oath before the crowd to work for world peace.
The city's mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, said people in Hiroshima are living witnesses to a century of war, and that utmost efforts must be made for this new century to be peaceful and humanitarian. The mayor also pleaded for nuclear disarmament and urged people to keep the memory of Hiroshima alive.
But that wish is proving all the more difficult as each day passes. Survivors of the world's first nuclear attack are now on average 70-years-old. A recent survey of school children in Hiroshima showed that almost 65 percent do not know the exact date and time of the bombing.
The United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and another on the city of Nagasaki three days later, leading to Japan's surrender and the end of World War II. Japan remains the only country to have experienced such a nuclear attack.