Koizumi apologizes to emigrants

Dominican Republic settlers to paradise lie draw regrets

by Hiroko Nakata

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi officially apologized Friday to Japanese who moved to the Dominican Republic with the promise of a Caribbean paradise and fertile farmland under a state-promoted emigration project between 1956 and 1959 and instead found sterile land and starvation.

“The government honestly regrets and apologizes for the enormous hardships the emigrants experienced due to the government’s mismanagement at that time,” Koizumi said in a statement.

The government admitted in the statement that it failed to conduct adequate prior research or provide accurate information about the land that would be given to the emigrants and thus the project brought hardships over a long period of time.

It also said it will pay compensation because the emigrants are aging and need an urgent and overall solution. Some media reports say each emigrant is expected to receive up to 2 million yen.

The official apology came after the Tokyo District Court ruled June 7 that the emigrants were legally ineligible to seek compensation for their hardship because they filed their lawsuit too late.

But the court also ruled that the state’s faulty emigration policy, which had falsely promised “a Caribbean paradise” and title to rich farmland, was indeed to blame for their pain and suffering.

Soon after the statement was released, the plaintiffs dropped an appeal with the Tokyo High Court against the lower court decision.

Later Friday, Koizumi offered the government’s apology in a meeting with some of the plaintiffs at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

“I told them (the government) had placed on them hardships,” Koizumi told reporters after the meeting. “I can imagine how big their efforts and their pains were.”

Koizumi added that because of the emigrants’ hard work, Japan was able to gain public trust in the Dominican Republic.

“As a representative for all of 1,319 Japanese immigrants in the Dominican Republic, I deeply appreciate the hearty words from the prime minister,” Toru Takegama, a 68-year-old representative of the plaintiffs, separately told reporters after meeting Koizumi.

Over 1,300 Japanese moved to the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1959, when the government sponsored emigration programs to mitigate the surging population as civilians and soldiers returned from other parts of Asia after the war.

But many were devastated by the harsh conditions that awaited them, and some committed suicide.

The government will dispatch Hidehisa Otsuji, a former welfare minister who heads a group of lawmakers working on behalf of the emigrants and their families, to the Dominican Republic from July 27 to Aug. 1 to attend a ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the relocation.