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Emperor Akihito, whose father made the unprecedented 1945 national radio address announcing that the war could not be won, also offered prayers for the dead.

Simmering tensions between Japan and its neighbors have threatened to boil over in recent weeks.

Last week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited contested islands in the Sea of Japan, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. His visit was seen by many as an attempt to play up anti-Japan sentiment ahead of elections later this year.