Families and friends commemorated on Saturday the 38th anniversary of the Japan Airlines jet crash that killed 520 passengers and crew in the world's deadliest single-aircraft accident.
Braving the heat, mourners climbed the mountain trail to the Boeing 747 crash site on Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, where they paid their respects at a monument and grave markers for their lost loved ones.
Kuniko Miyajima, who leads an association of the victims' kin, said, "We all share a desire for safety and peace." The 76-year-old, who lost her 9-year-old son Ken in the 1985 crash, said she hopes to pass on the lessons learned from the tragedy to the next generation.
Yuji Akasaka, president of Japan Airlines Co., also laid flowers and offered his prayers at the monument. According to Japan Airlines, 272 people from 76 families joined the hike, almost double last year's numbers.
Also among the hikers was Kyoko Fukuda, 84, who lost her 56-year-old husband Takeshi. It was her first hike since 2019 as she had refrained from climbing the trail during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At her late husband's grave marker, she talked about the birth of a great-grandchild and said, "As always, I am doing just fine."
An evening memorial ceremony was later held at the foot of the mountain ridge in the village of Ueno. Candles numbering the same as the 520 lives lost were lit, and a moment of silence was offered at 6:56 p.m., the exact time the crash occurred.
Tears were shed as photos and flowers were placed in front of a memorial bearing the victims' names.
With coronavirus pandemic measures that had restricted the number of attendees in 2020 now lifted, relatives of the victims were able to take part for the first time in four years.
"I am thankful that I am able to attend for the first time in several years. I do not want it to be forgotten," said Masae Takishita, a 54-year-old resident of Canada whose 11-year-old brother died in the accident.
The village's mayor, Hachiro Kurosawa, echoed her sentiment in a speech he gave at the ceremony, noting the importance of "continuing to pass on the memories."
On Aug. 12, 1985, a packed JAL flight 123 en route from Tokyo to Osaka crashed around 40 minutes after take-off, leaving only four survivors among the 524 people on board.
Kyu Sakamoto, a 43-year-old singer known for his hit song "Sukiyaki," was among the dead.
Many were traveling to their hometowns during Japan's Bon summer holiday season.
In 1987, a Japanese government investigation commission concluded that the accident was caused by improper repairs by Boeing Co. on the plane's rear pressure bulkhead, whose rupture blew off the craft's vertical stabilizer and destroyed its hydraulic systems.