TOKYO (AFP) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to become the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbour, announcing on Monday (Dec 5) a trip to Hawaii this month for talks with US President Barack Obama.
Abe, who will be in Hawaii on Dec 26 and 27, will visit the site of the surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, that began World War II in the Pacific.
The Hawaii visit comes after Obama in May journeyed to Hiroshima, the Japanese city where a US plane dropped the world's first atom bomb in the closing chapter of World War II. Nagasaki was bombed several days later.
Obama gave a speech that, while it offered no apology, was generally well received in Japan as it focused on the suffering of the atomic bomb victims.
On Aug 6, 1945, Hiroshima was attacked with 140,000 people dying in the immediate blast or later from radiation exposure. Days later another bomb exploded above Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000 people.
Abe on Monday hailed Obama's soaring speech at a cenotaph in Hiroshima, as a handful of surviving victims looked on.
Obama's "message towards a nuclear-free world during his visit to Hiroshima remains etched into Japanese hearts," Abe said.
"I'd like to make it (meeting with Obama) an opportunity to send a message to the world that we will further strengthen and maintain our alliance towards the future," he said.
"And at the same time, I want to make it an opportunity to signal the value of Japan-US reconciliation." Obama's trip had sparked speculation that Abe could visit Pearl Harbour in response, though the government previously denied that was under consideration.
Abe's wife Akie visited Pearl Harbour in August and said on Facebook that she offered flowers and prayers at the USS Arizona Memorial.
On the day of the bombing 75 years ago, Japanese planes swept low over the US naval base, killing more than 2,400 American troops and civilians, a date which then-president Franklin Roosevelt declared would live in "infamy".
The two-hour bombardment of the US Pacific Fleet at anchor sank or damaged some 20 ships and destroyed 164 planes.
Social media in Japan reacted positively to Abe's Monday announcement.
"I think it's a good thing," said @CNBLUE-6569 on Twitter. "After seeing President Obama's visit to Hiroshima, I felt strongly that I wanted a Japanese prime minister to visit" Pearl Harbour.
"President Obama came to Hiroshima so Prime Minister Abe should go to Pearl Harbour," Twitter user @chikazoemakoto said. "I think Abe made a really good decision."