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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

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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

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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

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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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.


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

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

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

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.”


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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South Korean and Japanese Students Talk About English-Language Education

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

On this side of the Pacific, we often hear about our friends and peers heading over to Asia to teach English. But we rarely hear from the student perspective.

South Korea and Japan spend billions of dollars each year on private tutors and academies in addition to what is taught in school curriculums just for that extra edge in English. However, according to the folks at YouTube channel Asian Boss, majority of South Korean and Japanese students have trouble communicating in English even at the most basic level. Asian Boss took to the streets of Sydney to ask a few young men and women, likely international students, about their own experiences—and struggles—learning and conversing in English.

All of the interviewees reveal that they began studying English at a young age—one commented that children begin to learn English as early as kindergarten in Korea. But for some, English isn’t just difficult. They loathe it.

“I just hate English,” one young male student commented. “Whenever I hear English or meet foreigners, I get dizzy and I start sweating. … That’s how bad it is.”

Most students expressed that learning English felt like picking up another subject, like math—an assessment tool to measure academic performance, as one student put it. Their experiences were limited to memorizing vocabulary terms and grammar rules without properly applying that they had learned. After their exams were done, they would forget everything.

Besides opportunities for conversations, one Korean student said there’s an aspect of shame Koreans run into. They’re afraid to make any mistakes, he said, and they miss out on speaking because they worry about trying to sound perfect.

Overall, the interviewees agreed that learning English should be more fun and cultivated at an early age as an important communication skill instead of a mandatory subject. The education system needs to go away from treating English as “a problem to be solved, like a math problem.”

Take a look at what else the young Japanese and South Koreans had to say below.

Reader Grace Lung pointed out that Asian Boss, an Australia-based channel, interviewed their subjects in Sydney in an area where many international students hang out. Thank you for the heads up, and we apologize for our error.

(H/T to RocketNews24)


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