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Japan, South Korea Reach Agreement on UNESCO Heritage Sites

Pictured above: Hashima Island in Nagasaki, Japan. (Photo courtesy of kntrty/Flickr)

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Both South Korea and Japan have received UNESCO world heritage designation for a number of their respective historical sites, following a breakthrough agreement between the two countries.

On Sunday, South Korea agreed to back Japan’s bid for UNESCO world heritage status at a World Heritage Committee meeting in Germany. Japan celebrated the recognition of 23 historic sites after agreeing to formally acknowledge the Korean laborers who were forced to work at several of these locations in the early 20th century.

For years, South Korea had refused to support Japan’s bid to recognize its rapid industrialization revolution (1868-1912), contending that tens of thousands of Korean, Chinese and World War II prisoners were conscripted to work at dozens of hazardous mines and industrial facilities during the Japanese colonial period, which began in 1910 until Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945

During a World Heritage Committee session, Japan’s ambassador to UNESCO, Kuni Sato, said Japan would take measures to remember the “large number of Koreans and others” who were “forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.” Although she avoided using the word “slave,” Sato promised to establish an information center detailing the laborers’ circumstances.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, said in a statement that the decision does not change the government’s stance, claiming that all “requisitioned” workers were settled when the two countries normalized relations in 1965.

South Korea’s foreign ministry still welcomed what it saw as a concession and said in a statement, “For the first time, Japan mentioned the historical fact that Koreans were drafted against their will and forced into labor under harsh conditions in the 1940s.”

The ministry also welcomed Japan’s offer to support Korea’s bid for world heritage recognition of eight historic sites representing the Baekje kingdom, which ruled for six centuries as one of the Three Kingdoms until it was defeated by a Silla and Tang Dynasty alliance around 660 A.D.

The eight sites are the Gongsanseong Fortress; the royal tombs in Songsanri in Gongju; the Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings and Busosanseong Fortress; the Jeonglimsa Temple site; the royal palace in Wanggung-ri; and the Mireuksa Temple site in Iksan. The Gongju and Buyeo areas were the ancient capitals of the Baekje kingdom.

CHA 1Neungsan-ri ancient royal tombs in Buyeo look vaguely similar to Hobbit holes.(Photo via Korea Herald/Cultural Heritage Administration)

익산_미륵사지_석탑Stone Pagoda of Mireuk Temple Site in Iksan, North Jeolla. (Photo via the Korea Copyright Commission/Public Domain)

gongsanseongGongsanseong (Gongsan Fortress) in Gongju, South Chungcheong. (Photo via Alain/Flickr)

In ancient times, UNESCO said in a statement, the Baekje sites “were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious, cultural and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan.”

World heritage status opens up doors for tourism and financial assistance towards preservation. This also marks the 12th listing of South Korean sites that have received world heritage designation.

UNESCO voted to approve the Baekje sites one day before the Japanese sites, apparently due to Korea’s insistence that Japan included the proper terms in acknowledging its history of forced labor.

The UNESCO agreement offers some relief in the strained relations between Japan and South Korea. Japan, especially in the weeks before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The two countries haven’t held a bilateral summit, with President Park Geun-hye refusing to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Japan does more for the Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

In a speech to the U.S. Congress back in April, Abe did acknowledge Japan’s actions in bringing “sufferings” to the peoples in Asian countries” and said he would uphold the apologies by previous Japanese prime ministers. He did not, however, outright apologize.

See Also


North and South Korea Join Forces to Excavate Ancient Palace

300-Year-Old Korean Mummy Gets Modern-Day CT Scan


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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.



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

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Korean Online Shopping Site Coupang Receives $1 Billion Investment


by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Leading South Korean online retail company Coupang announced on Wednesday that it had secured $1 billion from Softbank, a Japanese Internet company, according to Forbes.

The Softbank after Cupang landed a $100 million investment from Sequoia last May and $300 million from BlackRock Private Equity Partners in November. The deal also makes Coupang one of just a few tech companies, including Uber, Facebook and Alibaba, to raise at least $1 billion from one investment. In all, Coupang has raised a total of $1.5 billion, making it the third-most well-financed startup in the world, behind Uber and Indian e-commerce company Flipkart. The investment is also Softbank’s largest of all time, and it is expected to place Coupang’s value at $5 billion.

Coupang said in a statement that the investment will allow the them to double its number of warehouses to 16 and hire 800 more deliverymen—all to help accelerate plans to achieve one-day delivery within South Korea. Currently, only Seoul-based customers can receive their items on the same day if their order is placed before noon.

Coupang’s founder and CEO Bom Kim dropped out of Harvard Business School in 2010 to start the e-commerce site, which initially began as a daily discounts website similar to Groupon. Since then, Coupang has become the South Korean version of Amazon.com as the dominant domestic online retailer. As smartphone usage continues to grow in South Korea, more Koreans are turning to online shopping to purchase all sorts of products, including clothing, cosmetics, flight tickets and diapers. Forbes estimates Coupang is on track to sell $3 billion-worth of goods this year, while the company’s estimates are a bit higher.

Where it differs from Amazon, however, is its focus on vertical integration. Amazon and most other e-commerce sites in Korea rely on third-party services for shipping and logistics, but Coupang has focused on controlling those aspects themselves, emphasizing speed and convenience. Customers get free shipping if the item is bought directly from the company, and the aforementioned one-day shipping is available to those in Seoul.

According to the Associated Press, half of South Korea’s population has downloaded the Coupang app, and about two-thirds of transactions with Coupang take place through the app. Four-fifths of Coupang’s traffic and revenue comes from smartphones.


Feature image via TechCrunch

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Abe Address

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

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

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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S. Korea Lifts Travel Ban on Japanese Journalist Charged with Defaming President

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

South Korea announced that it has lifted the travel ban on Tatsuya Kato, a Japanese journalist charged with defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Reuters reports.

On Tuesday, South Korean prosecutors said that the lifting of the ban was made on “humanitarian consideration” to allow Kato to see his family. Kato’s mother is reportedly in poor health, and he has been apart from his family for eight months.

Kato, the 48-year-old former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, was indicted back in October for publishing an article in August that speculated on President Park’s whereabouts during the Sewol ferry sinking, which killed more than 300 people. The article supposedly contained details from a Chosun Ilbo column and rumors from Korea’s financial industry that said Park’s absence during the maritime disaster was due to her meeting an unidentified man in an alleged secret meeting.

The presidential office denied the claim, while Seoul prosecutors said Kato’s article was based on “false information.” Although Kato was not placed under arrest, he was barred him from leaving the country. The indictment has since led to fierce criticism of South Korea’s press freedom and concern over bilateral relations from Japanese officials.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, responded saying the case was “irrelevant to ROK-Japan relations” and “not appropriate to make the issue into a diplomatic problem.”

The Sankei Shimbun welcomed the lifting of the travel ban but continued to demand that South Korea drops its charges against Kato.


Featured image via Kyodo


Seoul to Strengthen Education on ‘Comfort Women’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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.


Featured image via AFP


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

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.



Nancy Pelosi Urges Abe to Apologize for Japan’s Wartime Sex Slavery

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday to acknowledge and apologize for the sexual slavery committed by Japan during World War II, reports Yonhap News Agency.

When asked about her thoughts on Abe’s upcoming congressional speech in Washington, Pelosi told reporters, “We have been clear about what we’d like to hear about comfort women. I hope that a statement will be made to free [Japanese] people from this burden of the issue of comfort women.”

Pelosi met with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Thursday and discussed issues regarding North Korea as well as the relationship between South Korea and Japan. She also met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who expressed the urgency of the “comfort women” issue as the victims are in their late 80s, according to Park’s office.

Although Pelosi said it is not necessary for Abe to apologize before Congress, she expressed hope that the prime minister “apologizes in some format.”

“I would imagine if the prime minister is going to make a statement, he [would] probably do that in his own country rather than somebody else’s country,” Pelosi said, according to Yonhap.

For decades, South Korea has repeatedly urged Japan to take responsibility for forcing Korean and other Asian women to work in military brothels during World War II. There is still no sign of resolution between the two countries.

In 1993, former Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono offered an official apology to the victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery. However, since Abe came to power, his government has been attempting to revise previous statements, like Kono’s apology, making an all-out effort to deny Japan’s involvement in forced prostitution.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Abe described wartime “comfort women” as victims of “human trafficking” without specifying the perpetrator, angering Koreans and activists.

Last month, a group of U.S. veterans wrote a letter to Congress, arguing that Abe should only be invited to address Congress if he clearly acknowledges Japan’s wartime conduct. Korean American civic groups also took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding that Abe should apologize to the elderly comfort women before his congressional speech.

Abe is expected to speak before a joint session of Congress on April 29 and will become the first Japanese prime minister to accomplish this feat.