Emperor Akihito expressed "deep remorse" in his address to an annual memorial service in Tokyo on Aug. 15 to mark the end of World War II, and for the first time he reflected "on the long period of postwar peace."

Observers are poring over the new wording to gauge its significance and implication as the emperor's remarks are always carefully scripted.

It was Akihito's final appearance at the annual event held at Nippon Budokan as he will abdicate next year in favor of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito. This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the end of the war.

Akihito has attended every memorial service at Nippon Budokan on Aug. 15 since he became emperor in 1989.

The new phrase in this year's message is: "Looking back on the long period of postwar peace."

Akihito then expressed "deep remorse" as he has done in each of the past three ceremonies.

He again also said, "I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated."

A total of 5,236 bereaved family members from around Japan were among the participants to join Akihito and Empress Michiko at the ceremony.

Participants observed a moment of silence at noon for the approximately 3.1 million Japanese who died in the war.

In his speech, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again refrained from touching upon Japan's responsibility for the war, but repeated a phrase that he has included in his speech since 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

"We shall never repeat the horrors of war," Abe said again this year. He added that the Japanese would never forget that the peace and prosperity enjoyed by the nation now was constructed on top of the ultimate sacrifice made by the war dead.

Since former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa first mentioned "condolences" in 1993, past prime ministers had always referred to Japan's aggression in Asia by citing "deep remorse" or offering "condolences" to the Asian countries.

However, ever since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in 2012, he has stopped short of using such expressions.

The oldest bereaved family member attending the ceremony this year was 102-year-old Harumi Serigano of Tokyo's Nerima Ward.

Over the 30 years of the Heisei Era during which the memorial ceremony has been held, the composition of participants has changed dramatically.

In 1989, 3,269 widows, or 48 percent of all bereaved family members, indicated an intention to attend the ceremony. Siblings of the war dead represented 33 percent of the total in that year.

However, of the 5,455 individuals who indicated their intention to attend this year's ceremony, only 13 widows were on the list, or 0.2 percent of the total. Children of the war dead now make up the largest contingent, with 2,864, or 53 percent, indicating they were planning to attend. While siblings were only 7 percent of the planned total, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the first time made up more than 10 percent of bereaved family members planning to attend, representing 11 percent of the total.

(This article was compiled from reports by Keisuke Sato and Yasuhiko Shima.)