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Nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Sunday led Japan's first state-backed ceremony to mark the return of its sovereignty in 1952 following its defeat in World War II.
The move may be regarded warily by neighbouring China and South Korea which are suspicious of signs of rising nationalism in Japan and have long-standing territorial disputes with Tokyo.
"I wish to mark this day as a major milestone and make this a day on which we renew our hopes and our determination towards the future, reflecting on the path we have followed," Abe said at a ceremony attended by about 400 people including Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
Referring to Japan's rapid postwar rise as a democratic, economic power, Abe said: "I believe we have an obligation to make Japan strong and robust and make it a country that the people of the world are able to depend on."
Prior to the event, the hawkish Abe said a ceremony would help younger Japanese "recognise" that the country regained independence following seven years of postwar occupation by US forces after its surrender.
Japanese conservatives have long criticised liberal school teachers as atoning for the country's imperialist past too much and failing to nurture patriotism in their students.
Abe's ruling party has also pledged to push for changes to Japan's pacifist constitution which was imposed on it after the war, a move likely to stir unease in neighbouring countries which were victims of Tokyo's 20th century militarism.
Sunday's ceremony however angered residents of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, which remained under US control for another two decades after the rest of the country regained sovereignty.
"Today is the day of humiliation, when Okinawa was abandoned" by the Japanese government, Okinawa's assembly speaker Masaharu Kina told a protest rally at a park in the city of Ginowan, where thousands of people gathered.
Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima skipped the ceremony in consideration of residents' strong resentment against the event, which was was part of an election campaign pledge in December by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.
Okinawa hosts a majority of US troops in Japan and locals have long complained of the noise from aircraft, the risk of accidents, and other friction with US service personnel.
In a conciliatory remark, Abe said: "We should particularly bear in mind the fact that the administrative rights over Okinawa, which experienced brutal ground battles and suffered an immense toll, were separated from Japan for the longest period of time."
"Any casual statement would be meaningless in light of the sufferings that the people of Okinawa endured, and were forced to conceal, both during and after the war," Abe said.
"I call on younger generations in particular in urging people to make an effort to care deeply about the hardships that Okinawa has experienced," Abe said.