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Gearoid Reidy

Lay Japan’s War Debates to Rest Along With Abe

Commemorating the end of World War II can be a sensitive moment in Japan. How to honor the slain prime minister is now another one.

Some debates will never be settled.

Some debates will never be settled.

Photographer: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Japan observes the end of World War II on Monday, an anniversary that even 77 years later remains a source of contention both domestically and overseas. Statements by the country’s leaders are routinely examined for whether their level of contrition matches expectations. 

In the not-too-distant past, it was often a day for prime ministers to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto memorial that commemorates the country’s 2.5 million war dead, controversially including WWII war criminals. But since Junichiro Koizumi last went there as leader in 2006, no sitting premier has visited on the war’s anniversary; and of the many leaders Japan has had in the interim, only the late Shinzo Abe went to the shrine while still in office, in December 2013.