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Former Japanese Prime Minister Urges Abe to Uphold Japan’s WWII Apologies

Pictured above: Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama at the Japan National Press Club. (Screenshot captured from JNPC footage)

by MARI YAMGUCHI | @mariyamaguchi
Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Two former political leaders who apologized over Japan’s World War II atrocities said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should not water down their words when he marks the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

Japanese leaders’ war anniversary statements have always been closely watched, and this year’s is getting extra attention because it’s a key anniversary and Abe is considered a revisionist.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who authored Japan’s landmark 1995 apology on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, said Abe should “honestly spell out” the country’s wartime actions to address growing international concern that he may revise history.

Yohei Kono, who as chief Cabinet secretary in 1993 apologized to victims of Japan’s wartime military sexual exploitation, said he wondered whether a new statement by Abe is even necessary. He said a statement to mark the 70th anniversary, if issued, should not backpedal from any of the apologies that Abe promised to inherit from nearly a dozen past leaders.

“The international community is watching what (Abe) is really thinking,” Murayama told reporters during a rare joint appearance with Kono at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“It is important to clear any doubts that he has raised overseas,” Murayama said.

The historic statements by both men were highly regarded internationally as signs Japan had come to terms with its wartime past and they improved relations with its Asian neighbors. However, both statements have become unpopular among Japanese conservatives who say Japan should stop focusing on negative history to restore national pride.

Kono warned that any attempt to whitewash historical facts “hurts the Japanese people’s reputation.”

Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has said he would not necessarily follow the Murayama apology. He also has said there is no evidence that so-called comfort women were exploited through coercion by Japanese authorities, remarks seen by critics as undermining the Kono apology. But, after criticism from China and South Korea, Abe later promised not to change either of the statements.

Tokyo’s relations with the two victims of its wartime militarism have worsened under Abe’s leadership, particularly with South Korea—a former Japanese colony where many of the sex slaves were from.

Abe has given mixed signals as to how closely his upcoming statement will mirror Murayama’s apology. He is seen as avoiding the terms aggression, colonial rule and atrocities, including “comfort women.”

Murayama and Kono said those were undeniable historical facts that must be remembered to maintain trust and confidence.

Abe has convened experts to advise him on what to say. In his past Aug. 15 speeches, Abe omitted war apologies. He merely said Japan faces its past and keeps its peace pledges.

Murayama said Tuesday that the point is not for Abe to offer an empty apology, but to show the world that Japan’s leader has squarely faced the country’s wartime past and pursued its pacifist pledges.

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Seoul to Financially Support Animated Film on ‘Comfort Women’

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by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea announced on Thursday that it will render financial support for the production of an animated short film about Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial army during World War II.

The project is a sequel to director Kim Jung-gi’s 2011 animated short film, HerstoryBased on a true story, Herstory follows the life of Jeong Seo-wun, who was taken away to Indonesia when she was 13 years old and was forced to work at a Japanese military brothel for eight years.

The film won several awards and critical acclaim at film festivals, including last year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Unlike the first installment of Herstory, the sequel is set to depict wartime sexual slavery issues from the perspective of Japanese soldiers who were at the scene.

On Thursday, South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said it will provide 200 million won ($180,375 USD) for the sequel’s production in hopes of raising global awareness of the “comfort women” issue.

“We decided to provide monetary support for the production of the film based on the judgment that an animated film can be a very effective means for delivering stories of former sex slaves,” the ministry told Yonhap. “Details of the new film have yet to be decided but we expect it will be as good as the original work.”

Under the direction of Kim, the sequel will be made into a 15-minute short with 3D animation. The film is slated for a late 2016 release, according to the ministry.

You can watch the first Herstory below:

Recommended Reading

 

“Former ‘Comfort Women’ Journalist Vows to Take Stand”

“Seoul to Strengthen Education on ‘Comfort Women'”

“South Korea’s Stigmatized Ex-Prostitutes Face Eviction”

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Featured image via Herstory/Naver Blog

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Abe Address

Shinzo Abe Offers ‘Remorse’ But No Apology for WWII ‘Comfort Women’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

For some, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “eternal condolences” for the American lives lost during World War II were not enough.

In the first address by a Japanese leader to a joint meeting of Congress, Abe acknowledged on Wednesday that Japan’s actions “brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries,” but stopped short of offering an apology.

He did, however, affirm that he would “uphold the views expressed by the previous [Japanese] prime ministers in this regard,” which includes a 1995 apology by Tomiichi Murayama.

Many U.S. lawmakers and activists had urged Abe to address the wartime sexual enslavement of thousands of Asian “comfort women” by the Japanese imperial army, but found themselves disappointed by the prime minister’s lack of apology.

Abe Address 2

“It is shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government’s responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif), who authored House Resolution 121 in 2007 that called on the Japanese government to formally issue an apology. “Today’s refusal to squarely face history is an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women from the Asia-Pacific who suffered during World War II. This is unacceptable.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) was “grateful” that Abe “acknowledged the suffering of Asians at the hands of Japanese soldiers,” but said healing wartime wounds would require “honesty and an admission of responsibility.”

“Shirking that responsibility and attributing it instead to the cost of war amounts to a pardon of those who made decisions to dehumanize these women and is license to future generations to use war as an excuse,” Chu said. “The prime minister said that Japan’s eyes are always on the road ahead, but without responsibility and remorse, it is impossible to move forward.”

Community Response

 

Rep. Honda had invited 86-year-old Lee Yong Soo, a former comfort woman, as a guest to Abe’s speech. The wheelchair-bound Lee, dressed in a hanbok, joined hundreds of protestors outside in front of the Capitol building before the speech as they chanted, “Apologize, apologize, apologize.” She later sat in the House gallery during the session.

“There’s not many of us left and he can wait for us to die out, but that won’t erase Japan’s crimes,” Lee told reporters, according to Bloomberg.

The Council of Korean Americans also expressed their disappointment with the lack of an apology. “Ms. Lee represented the hopes of her fellow comfort women to be given a clear apology from Japan’s top leader while they are still alive,” the organization said in a statement. “We look forward to the day when Japan’s plight of the comfort women is fully acknowledged by its leadership, and the dignity of all comfort women, including ‘Grandma Lee,’ is restored.”

On Monday, Abe spoke at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, where sophomore Joseph Chang, a Korean American student asked him to clarify his position on the comfort women issue. “I apologize in advance if my question comes off as provocative, but it has to do with a topic that weighs heavily on my heart,” Chang said. “In the face of [much evidence], do you still deny the Japanese government’s explicit involvement in the subjugation of hundreds of thousands of women into coerced sexual slavery?”

Unlike his speech before Congress, Abe did directly mention comfort women and noted he had no intention of altering the 1993 Kono Statement.

“When it comes to the comfort women issue, my heart aches when I think about those people who were victimized by human trafficking and who were subjected to immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description,” Abe stated on Monday, before mentioning Japan’s various efforts in “offering realistic relief for the comfort women” and its commitment to eliminating sexual violence in conflict situations.

U.S. Leaders Call for an Apology 

 

Abe’s week-long visit to the U.S. was the subject of intense speculation in both Asia and the U.S. over the past month on how he would mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August. He faced a robust call for an official apology from both community organizations and U.S. officials, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiFlorida Senator Marco Rubio and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).

Rep. Mike Honda wrote an op-ed for CNN, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) wrote one for USA Today and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Japan to confront its wartime conduct back in early March.

On April 23, a group of 25 Congress members sent a bipartisan letter to the Japanese ambassador asking that Abe take the opportunity for “healing and humble reconciliation by addressing the historical issues” and “formally reaffirm and validate the conclusions” expressed in the Murayama Statement and the Kono Statement. Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) and the Korean American Forum (KAF) took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding that Abe issue an apology.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues organized rallies at the Capitol Building to “show that Abe’s denial of Japan’s responsibility for WWII and war crimes bothers Americans too.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership

 

Earlier Wednesday, Abe visited and laid a wreath on the National World War II Memorial on Washington’s National Mall. During his speech, he recounted the thoughts he had while visiting the memorial.

“History is harsh,” Abe said. “What is done, cannot be undone. With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayers for some time. My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect, my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during WWII.”

Celebrating the now-strong U.S.-Japan relationship, Abe spent most of the 45-minute speech championing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free trade agreement among 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that account for 40 percent of global GDP, according to the Associated Press. (The TPP does not include South Korea, which already has a free trade agreement with the U.S.)

The TPP has been controversial in both in the U.S. and Japan. President Obama met with Abe on Tuesday in the Oval Office, both declaring progress in bilateral trade talks. However, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress have expressed skepticism. Somewhat surprisingly, much of the dissent has come from the Democrats, who are opposed to giving the president trade promotion authority (TPA), the ability to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could not amend.

Recommended Links

 

Full speech on YouTube (Address begins at about 48:10)

Abe’s address and Q&A at Harvard University on April 27 on YouTube

New York Times Editorial Board: “Shinzo Abe and Japan’s History”

Washington Post: “70 years later, a Korean ‘comfort woman’ demands apology from Japan”

Washington Post: “Congressman [Mike Honda] uses Japanese leader’s visit to press for war-crimes apology”

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Seoul to Strengthen Education on ‘Comfort Women’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The South Korean government announced on Wednesday that it will make efforts to further educate its elementary school students about Japans’s sexual enslavement of thousands of women during World War II.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s education and gender equality ministries will distribute supplementary textbooks that teach elementary and secondary school students about the victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery, who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.” In addition to these new textbooks, the ministries plan to distribute teaching aids, including videos and PowerPoint files, to 193 education offices and 800 public libraries starting this month.

The announcement follows Japan’s approval of updated textbooks that downplay the country’s wartime aggression and strengthen its claims to the disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.

Existing Korean public school textbooks only briefly mention the victims of wartime sex slavery, sometimes in as little as a single paragraph. According to a survey conducted by a team of school teachers and researchers tasked with penning the supplementary textbooks, about 49 percent of the 152 elementary schoolchildren surveyed said they knew nothing about the subject. Meanwhile, about 24 percent said they were familiar with the topic and only a little over 19 percent said they were knowledgeable.

The supplementary text is expected to be 40 pages long and will be distributed to fifth graders and older after it is approved by the education ministry. All new materials for both teachers and students will then become public to browse or download online.

Although teachers will be encouraged by the government to use the new materials, it is not mandatory for them to discuss the contents of the new textbooks with their students, according to the Korea Herald.

Nam Sang-gu, a Northeast Asian Foundation researcher and one of the writers for the supplementary textbooks, said the new materials not only details the plight of comfort women but also emphasizes the importance of “peacebuilding and overcoming the aftermath of military conflicts.”

“While our goal is to educate our children about what happened and what we should remember so such tragedy does not repeat in the future, we also don’t want them to form a negative sentiment against Japan as a whole,” Nam told the Korea Herald. “In the material we also talk about how there are people in Japan who empathize with the victims and have worked for their rights and compensation.”

Earlier this week, a U.S. congressman told Korean reporters that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s wartime sex slavery during his trip to Washington later this month.

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Featured image via AFP

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Abe Expected to Mention Japan’s Wartime Sex Slavery During U.S. Trip: U.S. Congressman

Pictured above: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. The meeting was in Tokyo, Japan on April 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Tokyo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

According to a U.S. congressman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II when he visits Washington later this month, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) told Korean correspondents in Washington on Monday, “We did not discuss that with the prime minister [Abe], but I have every reason to believe that one way or the other, it’s going to be mentioned during this trip to the United States.”

The congressman added that he is confident that the “issue cannot be ignored” if Abe is questioned about Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement.

Sex slavery has been an ongoing issue in the frayed relationship between Japan and South Korea. For decades, South Korea has called on Japan to acknowledge and apologize to the elderly Korean victims of sex slavery, or “comfort women” as they were euphemistically called, for forcing them to work in military brothels during World War II. However, Japan has refused to take responsibility.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Abe referred to comfort women as victims of “human trafficking” without specifying the perpetrator. Seoul expressed concerns over the term “human trafficking,” accusing Abe of denying Japan’s involvement in the forced prostitution of thousands of women.

Last week, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Abe to address the “comfort women” issue. In addition, U.S. war veterans sent a letter to Congress last month, arguing that Abe should only be allowed to deliver a congressional speech when he acknowledges Japan’s wartime conduct.

Abe is set to address a joint session of Congress on April 29 and will be the first Japanese prime minister to do so.

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Shinzo Abe Invited to Address Joint U.S. Congress Session

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will speak before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on April 29, reports Yonhap News Agency. House Speaker John Boehner officially announced the invitation on Thursday.

“As the United States continues to strengthen our ties with Japan, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe to the United States Capitol. His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities,” Boehner said in a statement.

“That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade,” he added. “Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, and we are proud to host this historic event.”

Abe was poised to make a trip to the United States this spring in late April to early March before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August. He is expected to meet with President Barack Obama over discussions on security and trade agreements. His speech before Congress is expected to mark the partnership the two countries have enjoyed and the peaceful path Japan has taken since the end of the war.

There is intense speculation in Tokyo and other Asian countries about how he will mark the anniversary. Abe has stirred fierce controversy over signs that his government was looking to reexamine and revise previous statements and apologies from former Japanese leaders.

In response to speculation over Abe’s visit, a number of Korean American activists and U.S. veterans groups called on Abe earlier this month to issue a clear apology for Japan’s war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed during World War II. U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.

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Shinzo Abe Urged to Clearly Apologize for Sexual Slavery, War Crimes Before U.S. Trip

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

As all signs point to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making a trip to the United States later this spring, several activists in the U.S. have called for him to issue a clear apology for war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed by Japan during World War II before he is expected to appear before a joint session of Congress.

Yesterday, Korean American civic groups, including the Korean American Forum (KAF) and Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding, “Mr. Abe must apologize to the victims of military sexual slavery by imperial Japan during WWII … before seeking a speech to a joint session of U.S. Congress.”

KAF Ad

The ad also includes the photos of former “comfort women” Jan Ruff O’Herne and Yong-soo Lee, who both testified before Congress in 2007. Another photo shows Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in 2013, an act that infuriated Koreans and Chinese, as the shrine honors a number of Japanese soldiers who were tried as war criminals.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who has previously spoken on behalf of sexual slavery victims, also issued a statement that said Abe fully “acknowledges the systematic kidnapping of girls and women during the 1930s and 1940s during the second world war, that they were responsible for, that he apologizes on behalf of the government, that the apology be unambiguous, and that he accepts the historical responsibility.”

Honda added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.

A U.S. veterans group, which includes former American prisoners-of-war and their relatives, sent a letter to lawmakers in Congress, saying Abe should only be invited to give a speech if he admits Japan’s wartime conduct. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society called the speech a “unique opportunity” for him to deliver the apology.

Tokyo and Washington were in final preparations a month ago for Abe to address Congress during a visit to the U.S. in the spring. Although the invite hasn’t been confirmed, it would be the first time a Japanese prime minister has spoken before a joint session of Congress, as well as the first time a Japanese prime minister has addressed Congress since 1961, according to the Japan Times.

Abe will travel to the States during the Golden Week holidays from late April through early May. His speech is expected to touch on Japan’s peaceful path since the end of World War II and strengthening Japan-U.S. ties for the future, particularly on the economic front through completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

This all comes before the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in August. The Washington Post notes that there is intense speculation in Tokyo—and in other Asian countries—about how he will mark the anniversary.

A Japanese government study in 1993 led to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to issue the “Kono Statement,” which officially acknowledged that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced “comfort women” to work in military brothels during WWII. The statement’s wording was negotiated with the South Korean government, then led by President Kim Young-sam.

On the 50th anniversary, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said that Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, “caused tremendous damage to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in the spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.”

Abe’s government has drawn outrage for signs in the last few years that they were looking into reexamining and revising previous statements, including the ones listed above. This hasn’t helped thaw relations with South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s government, and the two leaders never met face-to-face until President Barack Obama held a joint meeting with them last year and Abe told the Japanese parliament that he would not revise the 1993 apology.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) organization. We have also clarified that Prime Minister Abe has not been officially confirmed to appear before Congress, but that he is expected to during his trip to the U.S. in late April. We sincerely regret the error. 

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