Pandemic limits attendance at war memorial

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People enter the Nippon Budokan hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Monday.

The government’s annual memorial for those who died in World War II was held at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo on Monday, the 77th anniversary of the end of the war.

Many bereaved relatives decided not to attend this year due to the seventh wave of novel coronavirus infections. About 1,000 people were present, less than 20% the level before the pandemic.

The ceremony was attended by the Emperor and Empress, the heads of the three branches of government including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and bereaved relatives. A moment of silence was observed at noon.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, representatives of bereaved families from the prefectures of Kyoto, Yamaguchi, Ehime and Okinawa did not attend this year due to the spread of the virus. Only about 600 bereaved relatives from 43 prefectures were present.

This was an increase from last year, when a record low of 53 people from 25 prefectures attended the ceremony. However, it still fell far short of the approximately 5,000 people who came before the pandemic.

The oldest person present on Monday was 95-year-old Takuji Sawasaki, the younger brother of a war victim, from Hiroshima Prefecture, while the youngest was 7-year-old Kazuha Isono from Kochi Prefecture, the great-grandson of a person who died in the war.

There were no parents of war dead for the 12th consecutive year and only one wife. More than 70% of the bereaved family members present at the memorial ceremony were in their 70s or older.

The Emperor said in his speech, “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.” The Emperor Emeritus also used the expression “deep remorse” in his remarks in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, the Emperor said, “I sincerely hope that we all work together with a unity of mind to overcome this difficult situation and continue to seek happiness of the people and world peace.”

Prime Minister Kishida stated in his address, “We will never forget that peace and prosperity were built on the precious lives of the war dead and the history of suffering.”

“In a world where conflict continues unabated, Japan, under the banner of proactive pacifism and in cooperation with the international community, will make every effort to resolve the various challenges facing the world,” Kishida said.

Many of the attendees were elderly people at high risk of serious illness, so infection control measures were thoroughly implemented at the venue, including temperature checks upon entry, frequent disinfection and regular ventilation. As in previous years, the national anthem was not sung but only played by an orchestra.

To reduce contact between attendees, no assistants were assigned to hand chrysanthemums to people who placed flowers.

In the wake of the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, guests of honor and members of the press had to put their bags through metal detectors for the first time.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry puts the number of war dead at 2.3 million military personnel and civilian military employees, and 800,000 civilians. These figures include people who died between the start of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the end of World War II in 1945, as well as people who died while being detained in Siberia after World War II.