Emperor Naruhito, in his first appearance as the holder of the Chrysanthemum Throne at an annual memorial service for the war dead held each Aug. 15, delivered his address in the ceremony in Tokyo, which marked the 74th anniversary of the end of World War II.

For 30 years until last summer, his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, spent much time and effort to put his thoughts and feelings about the war into words as he meticulously wrote and polished his addresses for the anniversary.

In the ceremony for 1995, which marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, he used the phrase “reflecting on history” to demonstrate his will to confront Japan’s wartime past.

In the same vein, speaking at the memorial service for 2015, at the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Akihito used the term “deep remorse” for the first time, saying, “Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war.”

This year, Naruhito, who was born 15 years after the end of the war, delivered an address that contained most of the key elements of his father’s expressions concerning the theme.

"Bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never again be repeated,” he said, making clear his strong support for the nation’s renunciation of war.

By voicing his determination not to forget that wartime Japan inflicted huge damage and suffering not only on its own people but also on people in many other countries, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region, Naruhito effectively declared that he is as firmly committed as his father to promoting international harmony and cooperation.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again made no mention of such remorse in his speech at the memorial service this year. Abe once used the word in his speech at the ceremony for 2007, when he was serving his first tenure as prime minister.

Ever since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in 2012, however, he has stopped short of referring to Japan’s “remorse” over the war or the harm it caused to neighboring countries.

Instead, he has talked about his strong desire to allow young Japanese to stop apologizing for the past war. In his statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, he said, “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.”

But we can build relations with other countries that no longer require such apologies on our part only if our political leaders, our representatives, keep demonstrating their commitment to facing up to dark chapters of our history and reflecting sincerely on lessons from history.

As a politician supported by a broad conservative power base, Abe can do a lot now for Japan’s future generations.

What was notable about Abe’s address at the Aug. 15 ceremony is a reference to massive casualties due to “the ground battles in Okinawa” along with “the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities.”

The excessive burden Okinawa still bears by hosting many U.S. military bases has its roots in the Battle of Okinawa in the closing days of World War II and the postwar U.S. occupation and administration of Okinawa, which lasted until the island prefecture was returned to Japan in 1972.

Abe should show his acknowledgment of Okinawa’s ordeal with more than just words by taking specific policy measures to respond to the wishes of the people in Okinawa.

Referring to “the large number of war dead whose remains have still not been recovered,” Abe said, “We will take it as our mission to spare no effort to enable their remains to return to their hometowns at the earliest possible time.”

But certain recent revelations have generated skepticism about the government’s commitment to the cause.

They have raised a suspicion that skeletal remains of purported Japanese detained in Russia's Siberia after the end of the war that were returned to Japan may not contain Japanese DNA.

It has been reported that an expert told the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in December 2017 that the remains of 70 individuals retrieved in Siberia in 2000 were possibly not of Japanese. But the ministry has taken no action, not even informing Russia of the expert’s opinion.

This has indicated a lack of respect for the war dead, irrespective of nationality. The government should make a strict and strong response to the revelations.

In their addresses at the ceremony, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper House both referred to the pacifist principle of the Constitution and vowed to do the utmost to realize the principle.

The ceremony offered many insights into the importance of efforts to learn lessons from history and uphold the spirit of the Constitution accordingly for Japan to maintain peace for its future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16