Amid the first Covid-19 lockdown, one event brought communities together across the UK: the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Images and videos of neighbours celebrating in unison made headline news, and attracted some criticism from people who felt that the strict pandemic restrictions may have been unintentionally broken by street parties. 

By comparison, Victory over Japan (V-J) Day went largely unnoticed. It is celebrated in the UK on 15 August and in the US on 2 September, and marks the official end of the Second World War. So, what’s the story of V-J Day? And why does it not get as much recognition as VE Day? 

When is V-J Day? 

First, it’s important to clear up why V-J Day is marked on two different dates depending on where in the world you are. For the UK, the commemorations coincide with the date that Japan initially announced its surrender. Depending on time zones, this can be considered either the 14 or 15 August, with the latter being the key date for Japan itself and Europe. 

The US, meanwhile, delays it commemorations to the day that the surrender document was signed. Officially, this is also the final day of the war. Japan conducts a ceremony on 2 September too, called the National Memorial Service for War Dead. It has changed a little over the years, but became cemented in the annual calendar in 1982. 

What does V-J Day mark? 

The final days of the conflict in Japan are well documented and understood. On 6 August 1945, the Allied forces dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed by another atomic bomb in Nagasaki on 9 August. That same day, the Soviet Union officially declared war on Japan. 

Japanese leadership recognised that victory had become impossible, and by 10 August, had expressed that it planned to surrender. 

This caused a flurry of excitement and relief across the UK and Europe, the US, and the Asian nations that had been hoping for a Japanese defeat or surrender. 

On 15 August, Emperor Hirohito of Japan confirmed that the nation accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration – a document conceived by Allied leaders that set out the conditions by which they would allow Japan to surrender. Among the key elements of this declaration were that Japan would disarm all its military forces, that war criminals would be punished, and that Allied forces would take up positions throughout Japan.

How is V-J Day commemorated? 

While the very first V-J Day sparked global celebrations – including the classic photo of a sailor kissing a woman in New York City – it has largely been replaced in the public consciousness by VE Day, as seen in 2020. There were some local V-J Day commemorations across the UK this year, but no major events. 

In the US, the festivities have also diminished. The date is no longer a federal or state holiday, although some individual cities still hold parades and other events.