TOKYO, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to Asian countries for aggression during the World War II Sunday at a ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Japan's unconditional surrender, and avoided visiting a controversial shrine where the top Japanese war criminals were honored.
"Japan inflicted great damage and pain on people in Asian countries," Kan said, adding that he extended his condolence to people who died in the war and his country should "actively contribute to the establishment of ever-lasting peace in the world. "
Japanese Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and some 5,400 people including families of those who died as well as 1,800 government officials also took part in the ceremony at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo.
Following Kan's address, participants observed a one-minute silence at noon for the some 3 million Japanese people who died in the war.
"I truly hope that the horror of war will not be repeated and, together with all the Japanese people, I pay a heartfelt tribute to those who lost their lives on the battlefield and fell in the ravages of war," said Emperor Akihito, who joined annually the event.
Ahead of the ceremony, Kan visited a national cemetery in Tokyo where he offered a bouquet in honor of the Japanese soldiers who died overseas.
But Kan and his cabinet members skipped the Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen as a symbol of Japan's military past.
Other politicians such as former prime minister Shinzo Abe and main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), leader Sadakazu Tanigaki, however, visited the shrine to pay tribute to the war dead including many A-level war criminals.
The last Japanese Prime Minister who visited the shrine while still in office was Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits during the 2001-2006 tenure sparked outrage from countries and regions that suffered from Japan's imperialism.