Japanese Emperor Akihito on Wednesday expressed “deep remorse” for World War II, The Japan Times reported. He made the remark at an annual war memorial service, which is held at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo. It was his last appearance there before he abdicates the throne in April 2019.

The emperor used the phrase for the fourth consecutive year at the service. He hoped that the “ravages of war will never be repeated”. Japan had announced its surrender in the World War II on August 15, 1945, days after the twin atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States.

“Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” Akihito said. “Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefield and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an aide to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo instead of going there himself. In his address, he avoided acknowledging Japan’s wartime activities for the sixth consecutive year unlike his predecessors, and instead talked of the future

Emperor Akihito will step down from the throne after three decades on April 30, 2019 – the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in two centuries. He will be succeeded by his heir, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.