Japan Has Faced Its Past

By Mr. Itaru Umezu
The Consul-General of Japan in Hong Kong

(Far Eastern Economic Review, August 10, 2000)

 It has been repeatedly asserted by several reporters and critics that Japan has neither sincerely apologized for its wartime actions nor offered any substantial reparations or compensation. In fact, Japan has clearly and repeatedly expressed its sincere remorse and apologies, and has dealt sincerely with reparation issues.

 These apologies were irrefutably expressed, in particular in Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's official statement in 1995, which was based on a cabinet decision and which has subsequently been upheld by successive prime ministers, including Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Mr. Murayama said that Japan "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering 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 a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology."

 With regard to reparations and compensation arising from events related to the war, Japan has dealt with these issues through the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other bilateral treaties. As far as Japan's relationship with the relevant countries is concerned, the issue of reparations has already been legally resolved. In accordance with these treaties, Japan renounced its assets abroad - estimated to have totalled $2.8 billion at the end of the war - leaving them in the hands of the countries concerned. Furthermore, Japan provided nearly 946 billion yen to a number of Asian countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea, in reparations and other payments. The majority of these payments were made during the 1950s and 1960s, the monies offered being the most Japan could afford, given the economic and financial constraints of the day.

 In addition, suggestions that Japan has refused to acknowledge and compensate "comfort women" are misleading and inaccurate. The government of Japan recognizes that this issue was, with the involvement of the wartime military authorities, a grave affront to the honour and dignity of women. It has thus expressed its sincere apologies and remorse to former comfort women on many occasions. This is a good example of efforts made by the Japanese government, along with Japanese businesses, labour unions, politicians and above all, ordinary Japanese people, to work together to alleviate the pain and humiliation suffered during the war years.

 In cooperation with the Asian Women's Fund, assistance has been extended to women in the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan. Work is ongoing in these countries, as well as in Indonesia and the Netherlands, aimed at resolving this issue. Talks continue with representatives of other Asian countries.

 Another matter for which Japan is constantly criticized is the teaching of wartime history. I would like to assure readers that Japan is keenly aware of the importance of history education. There are 33 official history textbooks currently used in Japanese schools. Each one covers wartime history extensively. In these textbooks the words "invasion (of China)" often are used, contrary to the belief that the words were changed to "advance into China." Furthermore, education guidelines prepared by the Ministry of Education clearly encourage teachers to descuss with their students the historical background to events that took place during the Sino-Japanese war.

 Furthermore, this education is not confined to the classroom. These days, Japanese school children are travelling abroad in larger and larger numbers, helping to advance better understanding between young people of different nations. More importantly, these travellers are participating in educational visits to countries that share a wartime history with Japan, such as the Republic of Korea and China. Such exchange programmes are very important in providing children with a sound and factual introduction to history, as well as firsthand experience of countries that share a troubled past with Japan.

 As a free, peaceful and democratic country that has upheld the full range of human rights for over 50 years, Japan's record speaks for itself. Japan has taken a great lesson from history. While Japan suffers from a tainted past, the peaceful Japan of today is sincerely remorseful and striving to atone for past mistakes. We must not forget the past, but in drawing lessons from history let us look to the future with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

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