Here’s what you need to know about the 75th anniversary of VJ Day - and how it’s being celebrated in 2020

VJ Day celebrations in 1954 (Photo: IWM)VJ Day celebrations in 1954 (Photo: IWM)
VJ Day celebrations in 1954 (Photo: IWM)

This year marks the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, when Japan surrendered from World War Two, marking the end of the conflict.

Victory over Japan Day takes place every year on August 15 in the UK and this year celebrations will be a little different due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know.

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When is VJ Day?

VJ Day is celebrated on different dates in the UK and in the US.

In the UK, VJ Day marks the initial announcement of Japan’s surrender on 15 August 1945. We therefore celebrate VJ day on 15 August each year.

Meanwhile in the US, VJ Day marks the date when the surrender documents were officially signed on the USS Missouri battleship - on 2 September 1945.

In the US, VJ Day therefore takes place each 2 September.

In Japan, the day is known as the “memorial day for the end of the war”, and is observed on 15 August.

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What is the significance of VJ Day - and how does it differ to VE Day?

VJ Day marks the day on which Imperial Japan surrendered in World War II, which in effect brought the war to an end.

VE Day on the other hand, refers to the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945, after nearly six years of war.

Despite the battle with the Nazis coming to an end and Hitler dead, Japan held firm and war continued in the Pacific.

Japan, a key German ally, continued to fight off the advancing US army.

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Why did Japan surrender?

The Japanese surrender occurred following the fallout of the atomic bombs the Americans dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively.

The Allied leaders (United States, Great Britain and Soviet Union) issued Japan a Potsdam Declaration, which called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces.

Previously, Japan had not accepted these terms, but following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito (posthumously called Emperor Showa) decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration.

However, it wasn’t just the atomic bombs from the US that secured Japan’s surrender - an attack from the Soviet army was a big factor as well.

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While the Soviets were allied with Britain and the US in the fight against Hitler, they weren’t actually at war with Japan at the time the country was issued the Potsdam Declaration.

In fact, the Soviet Union and Japan had previously signed a neutrality pact in 1941 - a pact which both sides benefited from during the war.

This changed on 9 August, the day of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, following the bombing of Hiroshima a few days earlier.

The Soviets broke the terms of the neutrality pact with Japan and implemented a massive invasion of its territories, taking out huge numbers of Japanese soldiers.

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Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, made the decision to do this because he had made a promise to British and American leaders to join the war against Japan following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

According to American historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, the Soviet Union’s attack destroyed Japan’s hopes that they could end the war with help from Moscow.

Hasegawa said: “The Soviet entry into the war played a much greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender because it dashed any hope that Japan could terminate the war through Moscow’s mediation.”

On 2 September, 1945, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was formally signed on board USS Missouri.

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Will VJ Day celebrations still go ahead?

In the UK, VJ Day is celebrated in a similar fashion to VE Day, with commemorations for those who fought during the war.

However, parades, remembrance events and other celebrations have been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The British Legion announced: “As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Royal British Legion has taken the difficult decision not to continue with plans for our overseas tours to commemorate VJ Day.

“We recognise that this decision will be deeply disappointing, it has been taken based on expert advice to protect the health of those who would have been travelling on the tours.”

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However, you can still get involved with VJ Day celebrations in a socially responsible way.

While lockdown rules across the UK have relaxed, it's important to continue to follow the rules to keep the spread of the coronavirus as low as possible.

The VJ Day website from the government outlines a whole list of ways to celebrate the day.

The website states: “There are many ways you can get involved with VJ Day, either outdoors while following social distancing guidance, or online.”

These are some of the ideas that the government suggests:

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  • Discover your WW2 history using online resources to discover your local and family WW2 histories and connections
  • Find your local memorial
  • Check out the government’s dedicated toolkit complete with resources and branding for your at home activities, including messages of remembrance
  • Join the Premier League Academies in marking VJ Day 75 by sending paper cranes to Big Ideas, where they will be assembled into a paper wreath to be laid at the Children’s Peace Monument in the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park

The government also published a schedule of events for the day, which includes:

  • At 11am, a National Two Minute Silence led by the Prince of Wales, which will take place at the National Memorial Arboretum
  • The Red Arrows will conduct flypasts over Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and will conclude their tour of the UK over London
  • VJ Day 75: The Nation’s Tribute will be broadcast on BBC One between 8:30pm and 10pm
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