Japan marked for the first time Sunday the end of the allied occupation of the country following its defeat in World War II.
"We have a responsibility to make Japan a strong and resolute country that others across the world can rely on," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a ceremony in Tokyo that was attended by dignitaries, including Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
During the election campaign that returned him to power last December, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party promised to mark April 28 as "Restoration of Sovereignty Day." April 28, 1952, was when the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect, marking the official end of World War II and the allied occupation of Japan. Since his election, Abe has surged in the polls on the back of both his economic prescriptions for a stagnant economy as well as his plan to rewrite the country's pacifist, post-war constitution. Such a move would loosen restrictions on the country's armed forces.
The developments have worried China and South Korea, both of which were occupied by the Japanese during World War II.
"The prime minister has devoted greater attention in recent weeks to a more hawkish stance on security and Japanese history ahead of a July upper house election that his ruling bloc needs to win to cement its grip on power. Abe has defended the visits in the past week by more than 160 lawmakers to the Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan's war dead but offends neighbouring countries because it also honours Japanese war criminals."
The campaign comes amid growing nationalism in Japan. As the Asahi Shimbun reports, nationalist groups have targeted ethnic Koreans in Tokyo's Korea town. Separately, Japan and China are also involved in a standoff over uninhabited island in the East China Sea.
Sunday's Restoration of Sovereignty Day ceremony was marked by protests in Okinawa, which remained in U.S. hands until 1972, and which now plays host to U.S. troops.
"April 28 is considered the day when Japan, with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, recovered its independence while keeping Okinawa in the prison of the U.S. military," Norio Motomura, an activist from Okinawa, told Japan Times.
People on the island labeled the ceremony a "humiliation" for Okinawa.