Has the Japanese Government Apologized for the Atrocities Japan Inflicted in Asia during WWII?

You often hear from Japanese politicians that the Japanese government has already apologized many times for the massive and inhumane atrocities that the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted all over Asia during WWII.  So they asked “Why is another apology necessary?  How many apologies do you need before it is enough?”  For example, they point to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent statement on not revising the 1993 Kono Statement on Comfort Women (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/world/asia/japan-prime-minister-says-he-will-not-revise-1993-apology-to-wartime-prostitutes.html?_r=0).

If you look even just slightly deeper into this issue, you will come to the undoubtable conclusion that even though almost 69 years have elapsed since the end of WWII, Japan has never offered a meaningful official apology.

First let’s address the recent Abe comment.  Since Abe took office again as the PM in Dec. 2012, he has made many contradictory statements, and his appointees and close collaborators have made many ultra right-wing statements denying various aspects of history, including claiming that the comfort women were just paid prostitutes and the atrocity events in Asia during WWII, such as the Nanking Massacre, were just fabrications by the victims.

This set of recent events is similar to many other events during the last several decades.  A so-called “apology” by one Japanese political leader is usually preceded or followed by contradictory statements by other political leaders.  In other words, the Japanese government has never made a consistent statement at their highest level of government.  Usually these so-called “apologies” are made just before an important meeting with other countries’ leaders (such as Korea’s or China’s) so that the meeting will take place or can proceed more smoothly, or to deflect large amount of foreign criticism of their position.  In the recent Abe case, there has been a lot of criticism and pressure on Abe from the U.S. (including a 3/2/14 editorial of the NYT) that Abe has gone too far with respect to not acknowledging and apologizing for Japan’s war-time atrocities.

The Japanese government also likes to refer to the funds that they set up for comfort women.  However, that fund was not an official government fund (even though the Japanese government may have provided the fund to a NGO) and was not accompanied by an official government apology.  That was why most of the comfort women rejected that money.

An official apology should come from the highest level of the Japanese government, i.e., a resolution passed by the Japanese Diet and her PM, and not just from her Chief Cabinet Secretary (which was Kono’s position).  Please compare with Germany, where the apology came from her Chancellor at a public site kneeling down and apologizing.  Furthermore, it is illegal in Germany to openly question the existence of the Holocaust, while Japan is busy revising their textbooks.

Abe also recently visited and paid tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine where 14 Class A  convicted and executed Japanese War Criminals are enshrined.  What do you think the Western world’s reaction would be if the German Chancellor would visit and pay tribute at a site honoring Hitler?

That is why this recent statement by Abe is just another PR-like “apology” and has absolutely no meaning or significance.  This recent statement is far from what the Japanese government should do to acknowledge and apologize for the massive and inhumane atrocities the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted all over Asia during WWII.  Until that happens, it would be difficult for Japan and countries like China and Korea to have truly meaningful diplomatic dialogues.

* Quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yasukuni Is Not Arlington (April 2014)

… one of the criteria for those buried at Arlington is that they have had to have been honorably discharged from the military. Those court-martialed or tried for war crimes cannot be interred. This is not the case for Yasukuni. In addition to the 14 Class A convicted war criminals who were found responsible for carrying forward the Pacific War, there are thousands who violated both Japanese and international laws. …


Chinese Court Acceptance of Wartime Slavery Lawsuit Provides Hope for Survivors (April 2014)

Zhang Shijie, 88, gave a sigh of relief when his son Zhang Yang told him a Beijing court had accepted a lawsuit against two Japanese firms who forced him and another 37 Chinese people to work as free labor during World War II. “I finally have something to look forward to,” he said.


10,000 Cries for Justice (April 2014)

About 24 years ago, Mr. Tong Zeng in China started a campaign to try to get compensation from Japan for the numerous Chinese who were forced by the Japanese military to work as slave laborers during the Second Sino-Japanese War.  Once this initiative was reported in the Chinese media, thousands of former Chinese slave laborers or their relatives, as well as Chinese victims of other Japanese atrocities, wrote to him reporting on their experiences.  To his surprise, over the next few years, he received over 10,000 letters from all over China.

Twenty plus years later, he is now thinking of scanning these letters and put them up on the web.  This is such a great plan.  So now there is a small team of people in the U.S. collaborating with Mr. Tong and his associates on this project.  During these 20-plus years, because a lot of Chinese media people and relatives of the letter authors have borrowed and never returned many of those letters, only about 5,000 of these letters remain in Mr. Tong’s possession (copying machines were not very prevalent in China 20+ years ago).

The project has been expanded to include:

  • Scanning the 5,000 letters and envelopes to create an electronic record of each letter and envelope
  • For each letter, manually enter some simple indexing information for classification and to facilitate retrieval.
  • Transcribe each Chinese letter to create a digital file in the electronic database so that searches can be done based on any part of the contents of each Chinese letter.
  • For a representative subset, like 10%, of the letters, translate them into English to create an English digital file for this subset of the letters, so that searches can be done based on any part of the contents of the translated English letter.  Later, remaining letters are also planned to be translated into English.
  • Develop a public website to host these digital files.  The website will be in both Chinese (Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese) and English, to allow the public around the world to read and search these “cries for justice” testimonials from a large number of Chinese victims of Japanese war crimes during WWII.

For those who know Chinese, the following link (http://v.ifeng.com/special/duirisuopei/) provides an excellent 14-minute video of the history of trying to get justice for the victims of Japanese wartime atrocities through lawsuits in Japan, and more recently through lawsuits in Chinese courts.  These “10,000 Cries for Justice“ letters are part of this seeking-justice movement.  If you scroll down the screen of this link, you can also see some sample letters.

Controversy over Rising Sun Symbol at UPENN Building (May 2014)

The University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) in Philadelphia recently finished a major renovation of the Arts, Research and Culture House (ARCH) building making use of a $15M anonymous contribution.  The ARCH building was originally built in 1928 by the Christian Association, which owned the building until 1999 when it was acquired by UPENN.  In the renovation, many stained glass windows with symbols representing foreign lands were kept.  One of these symbols is the Rising Sun symbol which is the military flag of Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rising_Sun_Flag).  This has led to a controversy initiated by Korean students on campus because the Rising Sun symbol is associated with the Japanese military which inflicted massive and inhumane atrocities all over Asia during WWII.  UPENN’s position is that this stained glass symbol was put there in 1928 before WWII.  The opposition’s position is that although the Rising Sun symbol might not be offensive in 1928, it is definitely offensive after 1945, and even more so today because the Japanese government is still denying the existence of those atrocities.  Furthermore, the Japanese military already began its imperialistic aggression toward China and Korea starting in the late 19th century.  The controversy at UPENN is still going on:  http://www.thedp.com/article/2014/03/arch-rising-sun.