Japanese Emperor Naruhito expressed "deep remorse" over the country’s wartime past and prayed for world peace on Saturday, the 75th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two.
"Looking back on the long period of post-war peace, reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never again be repeated," Naruhito, 60, said at a ceremony for the war dead.
Naruhito, the grandson of Emperor Hirohito - in whose name Imperial troops fought the war - is Japan's first monarch born after the war. He ascended the throne last year after his father, Akihito, abdicated.
He has spoken of the need to "correctly" remember World War Two, without downplaying Japan's early 20th century militarism.
It was his grandfather who announced Japan's defeat on August 15, 1945, in an unprecedented radio address that was the first time the country's citizens had heard the monarch's voice.
Naruhito, who together with Empress Masako has been largely absent from public view since Japan's coronavirus outbreak worsened earlier this year, also expressed hope the country could come together to overcome the pandemic, which he described as "a new calamity".
The United States and Japan have become staunch security allies in the decades since the war's end but its legacy still haunts East Asia.
Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan's 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula.
China has bitter memories of imperial troops' invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945.
“We must learn from history, let history be a warning for the future, and show that we are prepared to fight in the event of a war,” said a commentary by the official newspaper of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.
Japan's ties with South Korea especially are strained by a dispute over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japan's wartime mines and factories.
"We have been discussing with the Japanese government on an amicable solution that the victims can agree on," Moon said in a speech in Seoul. "The door for negotiation is still widely open."
Relations are also strained over "comfort women", as women, many Korean, made to work in Japanese military brothels are euphemistically known.
Consensus over the war remains elusive within Japan, where more than 80 per cent of people were born after the conflict's end.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at the ceremony on Saturday marking the 75th anniversary, pledged never to repeat the devastation of war.
"Never to repeat the tragedy of war. We will continue to remain committed to this resolute pledge," Mr Abe said.
The ceremony was scaled down to less than one-tenth of last year's size because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The legacy of the conflict still haunts Japan's ties with its neighbours, where bitter memories of Tokyo's military aggression linger.
Mr Abe sent a ritual offering to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Saturday, but avoided a personal visit that would anger Beijing and Seoul.
Mr Abe has not gone to Yasukuni in person since a December 2013 visit that outraged China and South Korea. On Saturday he sent offerings via an aide.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose ties with Japan have been chilled by the legacy of the past, said in a speech that Seoul was always ready to discuss history disputes with Tokyo.
At least four Japanese cabinet ministers paid their respects in person at Yasukuni, which honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as Japan's war dead. The shrine is seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan's past military aggression.
"I came to deliver a message from President Abe that he paid his respects from the heart to the war dead and prayed for the rest and permanent peace of their souls," said ruling party lawmaker Shuichi Takatori, who made the offering on Mr Abe's behalf.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 39, often considered a future premier, visited the shrine on the emotive anniversary, as did Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda, Seiichi Eto, the minister for territorial affairs, and Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi.
Thousands of men and women of all ages braved scorching heat amid the coronavirus pandemic to pay their respects at Yasukuni, where markers helped people keep social distance while lining up and signs urged them to avoid clustering due to Covid concerns. A group of conservative lawmakers who visit each year sent representatives instead.
Mr Abe and Emperor Naruhito attended the separate official secular ceremony later in the day.