Seventy-five years after the attack that killed 2,403 Americans and prompted the US to enter the Second World War, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan will visit Pearl Harbor on Tuesday along with President Barack Obama.
Mr Abe will be the first Japanese leader to make a public visit to the memorial for those killed in the surprise attack, and the first to visit Pearl Harbor since 1951.
Other Japanese officials, including Emperor Akihito, had contemplated visiting the naval base in Hawaii but decided against it after opposition from Japanese nationalists.
Mr Abe said he was making the visit in order to “commemorate victims as the prime minister of Japan, as the representative of the Japanese people.
“We must not repeat the horror of war ever again. Together with President Obama, I would like to express to the world this pledge for the future and the value of reconciliation,” Mr Abe said as he departed Tokyo.
After landing in Hawaii on Monday, Mr Abe headed to National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where he laid a wreath. He stood for a moment of silence at the cemetery, near downtown Honolulu, at Punchbowl Crater.
He later visited a nearby memorial for nine boys and men who died when a US Navy submarine collided with their Japanese fishing vessel in 2001. At the Ehime Maru Memorial, he again laid a wreath and bowed his head.
The visit follows Mr Obama’s historic trip earlier this year to Hiroshima, where at least 90,000 died after the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city on Aug 6, 1945.
Mr Abe will not apologise for the attack but will, like Mr Obama at Hiroshima, pay his respects to the victims and encourage historical reflection.
The two men will visit the wreck of the USS Arizona, where 1,177 sailors and marines died when the battleship was sunk. The Arizona remains in place as a memorial to those who were killed.
The events of the Second World War still hold immense political importance in Japan. Last year Mr Abe apologised to the so-called “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the war, a topic that has at times strained relations with South Korea and China.
There was less uproar than might have been expected when Mr Abe announced earlier this month that he would be making the visit to Pearl Harbor, partly because he has close ties to the nationalist groups who had objected in the past. The groups claim Japan is unfairly cast as a villain for the part it played during the war.
While in Hawaii, Mr Abe will emphasise the importance of Japan’s alliance with the US, a relationship that could come under strain once president-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Mr Trump has said repeatedly that Japan should contribute more for its own defence and, during Mr Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, questioned whether he would raise “the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor”.
It was initially believed that Mr Abe would be the first prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor, but records were recently unearthed of a stop at the base by Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in 1951.
Mr Yoshida made the private visit after signing a treaty to normalise relations between Japan, the US, UK and other allies after the war.
US public opinion turned sharply toward war, and against Japan, after 353 Japanese aircraft conducted the devastating attack, sinking four battleships and significantly damaging four more.
President Franklin Roosevelt said the date of the attack, Dec 7, 1941, would “live in infamy”.
Because it took place before war had been declared, it was judged to be a war crime at the Tokyo Trials following the conclusion of the war.