Tokyo residents mourn victims of the 1945 Great Tokyo Air Raids

Tokyo residents gather to mourn for the victims of the Great Tokyo Air Raids in 1945, marking the 70th anniversary of the bombing.

TOKYO, JAPAN (MARCH 10, 2015) (TV TOKYO) – Tokyo residents gather on Tuesday (March 10) to remember the Great Tokyo Air Raids of 1945, the most deadly in history.

The Imperial Prince and Princess Akishino led the Buddhist ceremonies at the packed Tokyo Memorial Hall. In attendance for the first time was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Tokyo on midnight March 10, 1945. The bombings annihilated a wide swathe of northeastern Tokyo, packed with small factories and houses made of wood and paper.

An estimated 100,000 people were killed, many of them women and children – a toll higher than those of the Dresden fire bombing and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to come to terms with the lessons of war.

“Our commitment to peace means we have to face the past humbly and deeply etch into our hearts the lessons of the war so we can full contribute to long lasting world peace,” he said in a speech at the altar.

Abe has faced pressures recently to offer a wartime apology, as many worry about Abe’s moves to recast wartime history in a less apologetic tone.

Recently the Japanese government asked a U.S. textbook publisher to change references to wartime “comfort women”, the common term used to describe women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

The 70th anniversary of the fire bombings comes just after German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a speech in Japan on Monday (March 9) referring to the 1985 speech by the late German president Richard von Weizsaecker in which he called the end of World War Two in Europe a “day of liberation” and said those who closed their eyes to the past were “blind to the present”.

The speech reminded Japan of the need to squarely confront its wartime past.

The Great Tokyo Air Raid, which mainly killed civilians, is often not as well remembered as Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Although many Japanese are aware of this attack which razed a fourth of Tokyo, with more than 80 percent of Japanese, including Abe, born after the war, there is little known about what people went through, how many really died or how they died.