For the Japanese, the anniversary of their country's defeat in the second world war is an occasion for solemnity and atonement. They remember their own 3 million lost soldiers and civilians, reflect on the harm done to other nations and renew a collective commitment to never again wage war. That is what Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did yesterday, on the 59th anniversary of the surrender. Visiting the tomb of the unknown soldier in Tokyo, he made a speech expressing remorse for Japan's wartime history and pledging the country to peace. Despite these lofty words, the events marking the anniversary are still likely to rankle neighbours such as North Korea, South Korea and China - in particular the visit to the Yasukuni shrine by four of Mr Koizumi's cabinet ministers and dozens of legislators. The monument that many Japanese regard as their national cemetery and a holy Shinto site is seen by these and other Asian neighbours as a symbol of Japan's past aggression and militarism. It does not help that the shrine honours a number of the country's most serious war criminals or that strident nationalists such as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara regularly equate the shrine with Japan itself. And although an alternative secular monument to the country's war dead has been talked about for years, there have been no signs of progress in getting it built. Between the commemorations in Japan and the discomfort expressed from abroad, there is a large gap of communication and understanding, and the drama is likely to repeat itself annually until something dramatic is done to bridge the gaps. Mr Koizumi, as one of the most popular politicians Japan has ever had, is in a better position than any other Japanese leader to make such a gesture. By committing himself to getting parliament's approval for the new shrine, he could help to build the international trust in Japan that he spoke of yesterday. Arriving at that point will require a deep understanding of what other Asians might find objectionable about Yasukuni and the high-level visits to it. The question is whether Mr Koizumi will wait for such a development or if he will lead the country there. The benefits, on the other hand, could include greater international and domestic ease about the plans to revise Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to allow the country's troops to play a more active role abroad. At the least, it will remove a perennial irritant in Japan's otherwise smooth relations with most of its neighbours. Japan has the world's second largest economy and exerts much influence in the region in terms of trade and generous humanitarian aid. Its standing among its Asian neighbours, and its rapport with them, can only be enhanced if the Yasukuni issue is laid to rest for good.