CAVINTI, Philippines (AP) — With a mournful bow, Emperor Akihito paid his respects in a war memorial in the Philippines Friday to the largest number of Japanese invasion troops who died outside their homeland in World War II.
Clad in black and accompanied by Empress Michiko, he and Michiko each laid a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, Japan's imperial symbol, and silently prayed near a marble cenotaph in the Japanese memorial garden along Lake Caliraya in Laguna province southeast of the Philippine capital. Some of the 170 relatives of Japanese soldiers wept quietly.
Akihito did not speak at the ceremony, but in his only public remarks related to Japan's wartime aggression, he said at a banquet hosted by President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday that Japan should never forget the massive loss of lives in the war more than 70 years ago.
Akihito has repeatedly expressed regret for the damage caused by the war, but has never offered a straightforward apology. The furthest he has gone is to express "deep" remorse in an address last year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the fighting.
"I just feel very, very proud of the fact that I was able to present my father and his existence and what he did for his country to the emperor," said Joyce Tsunoda, holding a picture of a Japanese soldier who died in the Philippines. "I think it was something that I never dreamed that I will be able to do."
Tsunoda was among the relatives who talked with Akihito and Michiko at the memorial.
On Wednesday, Akihito and his wife led a wreath-laying ceremony at Manila's Heroes Cemetery, where more than 44,000 Filipino soldiers from World War II are buried. More than 1 million Filipinos, most of them civilians, and about half a million Japanese soldiers died in the war. The remains of many of the soldiers have not been found, according to Akihito's press secretary, Hatsuhisa Takashima.
Akihito's visit to the Philippines this week is the latest in a series of foreign trips that are seen as an attempt to show his commitment to peace and remorse for World War II, when Japanese forces invaded Asian nations in a brutal conflict Japan fought in the name of his father, Hirohito.
While the Japanese monarch has been jeered in some of his previous foreign visits, Akihito was welcomed with full state honors in the Philippines, which now depends on Japan as a leading trading partner, provider of development aid and a major ally. The visit comes as the Philippines and Japan both confront an assertive China in contested territories in the East and South China Sea.
"Their imperial majesties are exemplars of humility, congeniality and heartwarming empathy," presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
For some Filipinos, however, old wounds have not healed.
Isabelita Vinuya, an 84-year-old grandmother who was among dozens of women and girls raped by Japanese troops in Pampanga province, north of Manila, picketed the Japanese Embassy along with seven other elderly victims to demand justice.
"We want to tell the emperor that our case is not being heard by the Japanese government," she said. "We want him to hear us, so that they will admit to the atrocities they did to us, and take responsibility for it."
Some historians say that as many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Korean but also Chinese and others, were forced into Japan's military brothels during the war.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.