Emperor asks Japan to 'accurately understand' history

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Emperor Akihito has called on Japan to "accurately understand" its history at the end of a year marked by criticism abroad that the country fails to atone for its militarist past.

In an interview marking his 72nd birthday on Friday, the emperor said "there were rarely peaceful times" in the 20 years to 1945 when Japan surrendered to the allies to end World War II.

"I believe it is extremely important for the Japanese people to strive to accurately understand this past history along with the ensuing era," Akihito said.

"This is also important when the Japanese people interact with other peoples of the world," he added in the interview held recently with the Imperial Palace press corps for publication on Friday.

The past year has been cluttered with ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the war's end.

Japan came under intense fire from its neighbours throughout the year about how it perceives its past aggression. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi again visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours the Japanese war dead including convicted war criminals.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko toured the Pacific island of Saipan in June, their first overseas trip solely to pay respects to the war dead.

He said he felt "heavy-hearted as I thought of the severe combat 61 years ago."

Akihito also used the interview to praise "major roles" by women in Japan's royal family, in a carefully worded comment. The country is moving to break with more than two centuries of male-only rule.

He refused to clarify his view on a recent proposal by a government panel to allow women to ascend the throne of the world's oldest monarchy.

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