HONG KONG, May 26 (AP) -- Japanese peace activists on Thursday chartered a passenger boat to Hong Kong where they laid a wreath at a World War II memorial and urged Tokyo to improve relations with its neighbors.
The activists also called for common Asian history textbooks for use by students in China, Japan and South Korea, to prevent national bias from distorting how the past is taught.
Hong Kong peace activists, who recently demonstrated outside Japan's consulate alleging that Japanese textbooks whitewashed the nation's wartime atrocities, greeted the Japanese and held umbrellas over the visitors at the rain-soaked wreath-laying ceremony at a downtown park.
The visiting activists belong to a Japanese non-governmental organization called Peace Boat, which charters passenger ships for voyages to promote human rights, peace and environmental causes. The group said 900 passengers were involved in the trip.
The Peace Boat was scheduled to travel on to Vietnam, Singapore, the Middle East and Europe before cruising to New York by July for a conference at U.N. headquarters.
Last month, protests turned violent in China and South Korea over Japan's conquests in Asia in the 1930s and '40s and the country's ambitions to hold a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Peace Boat director Tatsuya Yoshioka said he hopes the trip improves strained China-Japan relations.
"We are working for future friendship and peace through learning history and dialogue," Yoshioka said. "That's the only way to build peaceful relations with other people."
Yoshioka also blasted Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for continuing to visit a controversial war shrine that many in China and South Korea believe glorifies Japanese atrocities.
"A lot of Japanese people oppose" Koizumi's visits, Yoshioka said. "The shrine really promotes anxiety and anger for people who have suffered under Japanese imperialism in the past, and more people have to understand that."