TOKYO (AP) _ After years of avoiding the public eye, the grandson of World War II leader Hideki Tojo has begun a singing career and is devoting his first record to Japan's fallen soldiers.

Hidekatsu Tojo made his debut with the song ''Under the Southern Cross,'' a requiem for the soldiers killed during Japan's wartime occupation of Southeast Asia.

The song was released as a single on July 1 by Nippon Columbia Co., one of Japan's top record companies.

Kozo Otsuki, who is in charge of promoting the record, acknowledged that the company believes Tojo's name will help boost sales, particularly with the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor just months away.

''As a shield for the ones you loved, did you fall in a foreign ocean ... Sleep, father, sleep in peace,'' says one refrain in the song, written by popular lyricist Toru Funabashi.

''I feel this is a very natural thing for me to do,'' Tojo said in an interview. ''It's not intended to provoke anyone.''

Tojo's grandfather was Japan's prime minister from 1941-44. He headed the militarist government during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

After the war, Gen. Tojo was deemed a war criminal by the Allies, who tried him for ''negligence in preventing crimes against humanity.'' He was hanged in 1948, when Hidekatsu Tojo was in grade school.

''I've always wanted to be a singer,'' said Tojo, now a graying 53. ''But because of my name, I never thought it would be possible. Maybe if I was a Suzuki or a Tanaka I could have done this earlier.''

Gen. Tojo continues to be an uncomfortable symbol of the war for many Japanese, and in recent weeks the release of his prison diaries has renewed a debate over his true role.

In the diaries, an unrepentant Tojo claimed Japan did not intend the attack on Pearl Harbor to be a surprise and followed international law by declaring war before dropping the first bomb.

He said the United States had failed to understand Japan's declaration.

The younger Tojo, however, prefers not to dwell on such issues nor to express his personal feelings about the war or his grandfather.

''My family went through a lot of hard times after the war, but so did most Japanese. I really don't think that I am in a position to complain,'' Tojo said in a soft, calm voice.

Dressed crisply in a Western suit, Tojo appears more businessman than aspiring singing star. He still has the gift shop he opened 10 years ago after working as a company employee.

Columbia has signed Tojo for a one-song-only contract, said Otsuki, but he refused to say how many of the records had been printed or sold.

''His voice is perfect for the song,'' he said.

So far, sales of the single have been disappointing.

''I think it's a bit early to say, but, frankly, it's not doing as well as we had hoped,'' Otsuki said.

''Immediate sales are not our main concern,'' said Masahiro Keniya, Tojo's manager. ''We are hoping this song will be a long-seller.''

Keniya said that Tojo's first singing appearance since the record's release will be at a gathering of war veterans in central Japan later this month.

''We don't plan to do many clubs,'' he said.