Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Published: August 15, 1995

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of Japan today did what no other Japanese leader has dared to do: he extended his "heartfelt apology" for atrocities his country committed in World War II.

"In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology," Mr. Murayama said.

His speech is sure to provoke strident debate throughout the nation, for his words were clearer than those of any other Japanese official trying to address Japan's role in the war. And yet his striking words may not necessarily appease the anger and hatred that permeates this region over the war.

From China to South Korea to the Philippines, in countries where the Japanese practiced torture, killings and gruesome experiments, victims and their relatives have recently been bringing their suffering to the fore. As a result, Asian countries have repeatedly plied Japan with hints, and sometimes even with outright demands, for apologies.

For Mr. Murayama, the speech fulfills a personal mission to apologize for Japanese aggression during the war, one that he and his Socialist Party have fought for fiercely throughout the years. In a nationally televised speech from his modest residence, Mr. Murayama spoke solemnly, almost determinedly.

"During a certain period in the not too distant past," he said, "Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."

"Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history," Mr. Murayama added. "Our task is to convey to the younger generations the horrors of war, so that we never repeat the errors in our history."

Mr. Murayama gave his speech shortly before attending a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. It is the separation of the apology from the official ceremony that raised the question of whether he was diminishing the power and impact of his apology.

Some Japanese say that the ceremony was meant only to be a commemoration for the Japanese, a rather ritualistic occasion in which Emperor Akihito extended his sympathies to the Japanese victims of the war. By separating the speech from the ceremony, these people say, Mr. Murayama gave his words much more of the force of the state.

It was Emperor Akihito's father, Emperor Hirohito, who ultimately surrended on Aug. 15, 1945, nine days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing nearly 140,000 people. Three days later, a second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, killed 70,000, and many Americans argue that the two bombs finally persuaded the Japanese to surrender.

Because Japan has long considered itself a victim of the war, not an aggressor, it has been extremely reluctant to offer any sort of apology. Earlier this year, Japan's Parliament refused to approve a resolution that expressed true remorse.

After weeks of debate and a series of curt exchanges among members of the various coalitions in Japan, Parliament finally passed a weaker version of an apology. The resolution used the term "hansei," meaning reflection or remorse, but not apology.

The resolution appeared to be more a triumph of carefully crafted ambiguity rather than a sincere apology, but its passage in June averted a political crisis. The debate has focused on whether Japan should acknowledge having committed "acts of aggression" and "colonialism," and whether it should offer an "apology."

While the Parliament did not pass a resolution with such terms, Mr. Murayama's words today removed any of that previous ambiguity. Thus, those Japanese who feel penitent can claim a sort of victory in that a Prime Minister has finally admitted that Japan feels remorse for invading and colonizing its neighbors.

Those who fiercely oppose any sort of apology will have to take solace in the fact that it was Prime Minister Murayama, not Japan's Parliament, who extended the apology. Even though Mr. Murayama was speaking in his full capacity as a Japanese leader, they may argue that the words actually reflect his own personal view, and not those of an entire nation.

In what may be interpreted as a strong rebuke to Mr. Murayama for his remarks, half of the Cabinet members today made a pilgrimage of sorts to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including the military leaders of World War II. It is a place where Japanese soldiers who died in battle are worshiped as gods and has become a focal point of Japanese nationalism.

Mr. Murayama, of course, did not visit the shrine. All the Cabinet members who went were members of Japan's strongest party, the Liberal Democratic Party.

In recent days, Mr. Murayama was said to have been studying the powerful apology offered by Richard von Weizsacker, the President of West Germany, in 1985. In a moving speech of atonement for the horrors committed by West Germany, Mr. Weizsacker said: "All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it."

Mr. Weizsacker referred specifically to the Holocaust, the burning of synagogues, the "plundering, the stigmatization with the Star of David, the deprivation of the rights, the ceaseless violation of human dignity."

The speech by Mr. Murayama today was much less evocative. He made no mention of any of the specific horrors that Japan committed, acts that ravaged China, like the Nanjing massacre when perhaps as many as 300,000 people were killed. Nor did he mention the labor camps, the so-called comfort women who were forced to have sex with the Japanese troops, or the horrific experiments conducted on Chinese people.

All of these acts fall under the "aggression" that Mr. Murayama said caused damage and suffering.

In his speech, Mr. Murayama also emphasized that Japan was a victim in the war, suggesting that while the country apologized for its own acts of aggression, it also suffered enormously from atomic bombing. He did not name the United States, but the hint was clear.

He quickly skirted the topic of the bomb and went on to note Japan's strong advocacy of the elimination of nuclear weapons.

"As the same time, as the only country to have experienced the devastation of atomic bombing," Mr. Murayama said, "Japan, with a view to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, must actively strive to further global disarmament in areas such as the strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is my conviction that in this way alone can Japan atone for its past and lay to rest the spirits of those who perished."

In a gesture meant to avoid offending the United States, Mr. Murayama expressed gratitude to America for the "indispensable support and assistance" given to Japan in its effort to rebuild the country after the war.

In a question and answer session after his remarks, Mr. Murayama explicitly denied any responsibility of Emperor Hirohito for the war, saying: "It is well known that the Emperor prayed for peace in the world, and made his utmost efforts to avoid the war, and it was the Emperor who decisively judged to end the war."

At the today's ceremony, Emperor Akihito said, "As I reflect upon history, I strongly hope that the scourge of war will never be repeated." He added, "I, along with all the nation's people, hereby express my deep mourning over those who died."

There was some uncertainty as to whether he was referring not only to the Japanese who died in the war but also to other Asians, and even Americans, who died. It seems highly likely that he was referring only to the Japanese. But if he meant to be ambiguous, then his remarks would be highly significant in that they suggested a feeling of remorse for those who died at the hands of the Japanese.

Officials at both the Imperial Household Agency and the Foreign Ministry said they were not exactly sure what the Emperor meant. However, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said the Emperor was referring only to Japanese.

 Japanese Apology for War Is Welcomed and Criticized

Published: August 16, 1995

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama was praised and pilloried today by people at home and abroad for offering Japan's first frank apology for the damage and suffering inflicted by his country during World War II.

People throughout Asia welcomed Mr. Murayama's apology, although reaction from certain countries like South Korea and China was cautious. Even many Japanese said they felt a strong expression of regret was long overdue.

"It was a war of invasion, and I believe an apology was right," said Kenichi Kobayashi, 58, a business manager, as he sat on a bench near the Imperial Palace. "We have done bad things to the Asian people. I think we should have apologized earlier."

For the first time since the end of the war, a Japanese Prime Minister today expressed his "heartfelt apology" and admitted that Japan had, "through its colonial rule and invasion, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."

At various times Japanese leaders have expressed remorse or regret for their country's actions in the war. But until today, the 50th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, no national leader had offered an outright apology. The word used by Mr. Murayama today, owabi, is unambiguously translated as apology.

Australia warmly welcomed the remarks, but other countries, from China to Singapore to Malaysia, were more subdued in their reactions, and not all issued official responses. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said, "We will observe Japan's attitude in the future."

A degree of ambivalence surfaced quickly even within Mr. Murayama's own Cabinet, which unanimously approved his apology this morning.

No sooner had Mr. Murayama concluded his remarks than minister after minister made a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, a place that honors the Japanese dead and worships as gods the Japanese soldiers who died in battle, including military war criminals.

Such conflicting sentiments and tensions over Japan's acts of aggression pervade Japanese society, and they spilled over on this anniversary. For a small minority, there is skepticism over how much pain Japan inflicted, and an assertion that war always brings suffering.

"I don't think we need to apologize at all, because we have no evidence that those things occurred," said a 55-year-old Japanese banker who would give his name only as A. Naka yama. "I believe politicians are apologizing without making solid investigation and without seeking the truth."

Mr. Nakayama's view is not so rare. Just last week, the new Education Minister, Yoshinobu Shimamura, told reporters that he questioned whether repeated apologies were useful and suggested that Japan had not necessarily been the aggressor in the war.

Then, when his remarks led to protests at home and in other Asian countries, he apologized and retracted them.

Indiscretions like Mr. Shimamura's have occurred many times over the years, and partly for this reason, some Japanese say they fear that Mr. Murayama's apology may not necessarily hold for long. Mr. Murayama's power and popularity have weakened in recent months, and if he leaves his post, a more conservative prime minister might take his place.

Nevertheless, some Japanese were encouraged by what Emperor Akihito said today in a ritual that marked the anniversary with a gigantic swell of flowers to honor the war dead.

"I renew my deep sorrow for the people who lost precious lives in the last great war and their survivors," the Emperor said. "I strongly hope that the scourge of war will never be repeated, and I, along with all the people in this nation, hereby express my deep mourning for those who died and suffered in the battlefield."

Emperor Akihito neglected to specify whether he was referring only to Japanese or to others as well. The Emperor's ambiguity allowed nationalists to argue that his remarks were intended to refer only to Japanese. But it also left room for others to suggest that Akihito was broadening his expression of remorse to other Asians.

In China, perhaps the country harmed the most by Japan's wartime aggression, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry welcomed the apology, the official New China News Agency reported from Beijing.

"We believe that the Japanese Government's attitude of expressing remorse over Japan's past colonial rule and invasion, and its apology to the peoples of Asian countries, is postitive," the spokesman's statement said.

"At the same time," it continued, "we cannot but point out that some people in Japanese society, including political circles, are still unable to adopt a correct attitude toward the history of that period."

Earlier in the day, at a Chinese ceremony commemorating the end of the war, President Jiang Zemin encouraged Japanese leaders to accept responsibility for past wrongs.

"History should not be forgotten nor distorted," the press agency reported, paraphrasing Mr. Jiang. "Any speech or act intended to cover up the crimes of the fascists will seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and those of other countries."

Still, if the expressions of regret and apology made today were meant to appease the frustration and anger at Japan among other countries throughout the region, Mr. Mura yama made clear that he had no intention of backing his words up with compensation. That issue was resolved long ago when Japan normalized relations with other countries after the war, he told reporters.

The Government recently supported the establishment of a new fund to help compensate the foreigners who were forced to have sex with Japanese troops as "comfort women" during the war. The issue has raised emotions among many women in Asia, including Japan.

"They were taken away forcibly, without any idea of what was going on," said Mie Kawamura, 61, on her way to a train station this evening. "I was only a grade school student at the time. But as I read more and more newspaper articles, I find that terrible things happened to them and feel sorry for them." 

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