SEOUL — Ahead of the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, South Koreans are renewing their call for Japan to truly repent for its past wrongdoings and act on its apology.
In a statement issued Aug. 10, Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized for Japan’s past colonial rule and expressed deep remorse, admitting Japanese rule was imposed against the will of the Korean people.
“Japan’s apology is seen like a formality that comes out when the need arises,” said Han Doo Kyung, who runs an Oriental medicine shop in eastern Seoul.
Any apology from Japan will be “nothing but empty words” without ending its claim to the Dokdo Islets in the Sea of Japan and paying compensation to former “comfort women,” Han, 47, said.
Japan has come under fire for its claims over the islets, known as Takeshima in Japan, its refusal to offer compensation to women forced into sexual slavery in Imperial Army brothels during the war, and textbooks written by nationalist groups that critics say whitewash atrocities by the Japanese military during the war.
A professor of German at a Seoul university said Japan’s evasive attitude in putting an end to the past and opening a new era is “totally different” from what he experienced in Germany.
“Germans I talked to seemed to have had a deep feeling of pride about former Chancellor Willy Brandt’s efforts to apologize for the past wrongdoings,” said Cho Kuk Hyun, who studied in Germany for about 10 years and now teaches at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
When he visited Warsaw in December 1970, Brandt dropped to his knees before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. Many people in Poland and Germany were deeply moved by this famous gesture of repentance and apology.
“Willy Brandt’s kneeling down before a monument commemorating Jewish victims was more eloquent than any apologetic words, ” Cho said.
Cho said it is regrettable that Kan’s statement fell short of admitting the illegality of Japan’s annexation treaty with Korea, which was signed on Aug. 22, 1910, and promulgated a week later.
Cho said he welcomed the decision by Kan and all of his ministers not to visit Yasukuni Shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of World War II, out of consideration for Asian victims of Japan’s past militarism. It is a “good sign” that raises expectations among South Koreans for a better future with Japan, he said.
“Even if Prime Minister Kan’s apology statement didn’t fully meet expectations, I pin much higher hope on the (ruling) Democratic Party of Japan in establishing truly friendly ties with South Korea,” Han at the Oriental medicine shop said.
Visits to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo by Japanese government officials have become a major diplomatic issue since the enshrinement of war criminals there in 1978.
South Korea and China, both victims of Japan’s military aggression, have protested the visits as unrepentant and hurtful, given that the shrine is symbolic of Japanese militarism and honors Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead.
Hwang Ji Eun, a 23-year-old student in Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, said Japan is a country that needs to match its words with actions.
She said she doesn’t harbor bad feelings toward Japanese people and is certain the day will come when South Koreans and Japanese become “truly close neighboring countries.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan said in a recent article published by the Korea Herald that reconciliation must be made between the past and the present for South Korea and Japan to truly become “close and ever closer neighbors.”
“This will only be achieved through the earnest efforts on the part of Japan to heal the wounds remaining in the hearts of the Korean people,” Yu said.
Hong Chan Shik, an editorial writer for the Dong-a Ilbo, a daily newspaper, said in his recent column, “The day when Japan’s annexation was promulgated 100 years ago is called the day of national shame to make Koreans stay awake not to experience the same shameful thing as happened that day.”
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