Pearl Harbor, Dec 27 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid wreaths at various cemeteries and memorials ahead of a visit today to the site of the 1941 bombing that plunged the United States into World War II. Abe landed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and then headed to National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where he laid a wreath.
He stood for a moment of silence at the cemetery near downtown Honolulu, which is known as Punchbowl. He later visited a nearby memorial for nine boys and men who died when a US Navy submarine collided with their Japanese fishing vessel in 2001. At the Ehime Maru Memorial, he again laid a wreath and bowed his head.
He Will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial that honors sailors and Marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan's former leader Shigeru Yoshida went to Pearl Harbor six years after the country's World War II surrender, but that was before the USS Arizona Memorial was built. Yoshida arrived at Pearl Harbor in 1951, shortly after requesting a courtesy visit to the office of Adm. Arthur W.R. Radford, commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet.
The office overlooked Pearl Harbor, offering a direct view of the attack site. The memorial will be closed to the public today when Abe visits the historic site, joined by US President Barack Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii with his family. The importance of the visit may be mostly symbolic for two countries that, in a remarkable transformation, have grown into close allies in the decades since they faced off in brutal conflict.
At the same time, it's significant that it took more than 70 years for US-Japanese relations to get to this point. Abe won't apologize for Japan's attack when he visits, a government spokesman said earlier this month. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that "the purpose of the upcoming visit is to pay respects for the war dead and not to offer an apology."
The visit comes six months after Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima for victims of the US atomic bombing of that city at the end of the same war.