Japan-South Korea deal on ‘comfort women’ draws mixed reaction


The Japan-South Korea accord reached Monday on the “comfort women” issue drew a mix of reactions from people in Japan who have been engaged in efforts to resolve the protracted dispute.

“It has been a long time. I have hoped that it would be resolved as early as possible. It’s a good thing that a resolution has come into sight,” former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said at a news conference in Oita Prefecture on Monday.

Murayama, who as prime minister apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression in Asia in a landmark 1995 statement, said Tokyo’s “acceptance of responsibility must have been the biggest factor” leading to the agreement, and that the two countries “must have hoped to move new relations forward” by resolving the comfort women issue.

The former leader of the Social Democratic Party, who took power in 1994 in a coalition government, said on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II that Japan caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to the people of Asia and other countries through its colonial rule and aggression, and expressed “feelings of deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.”

His administration also initiated the 1995 creation of the Asian Women’s Fund, a private-sector program to pay atonement money to surviving comfort women. It was dismantled in 2007. Some of the women rejected the money because they want official government compensation.

“It was regrettable that the fund was disbanded halfway, but we are here today after that process,” Murayama said.

Haruki Wada, former executive director of the Asian Women’s Fund offered a cautious assessment of the agreement, which includes setting up a new fund for the victims amounting to around ¥1 billion.

“The Japanese government’s acknowledgment of its responsibility is a step forward, but the details of the envisioned fund are unclear,” Wada said, expressing concern the new entity could be a “repeat” of the earlier fund.

The Asian Women’s Fund was designed to provide ¥2 million in atonement money to each victim.

Wada, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, expressed concern about whether the victims will accept the new arrangement.

“I wonder how the (Japanese) government will convey its expression of apology and the way the money will be provided,” he said.

Eriko Ikeda, director of the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, which has been helping the victims and shedding light on their plight, hailed Japan’s offer of an apology but said there seems to be a gray area in the accord, saying “there is no change to the position that Japan has no legal responsibility.”

“Many of the former comfort women are saying it is not the money that is at issue. Providing money without sincere remorse will just spark protests,” Ikeda said.

In Osaka’s Ikuno district, home to a major Korean community, some residents praised the accord while some were skeptical over the resolution as a “one-time” measure.

Meanwhile, Japan’s major ruling and opposition parties welcomed the accord as a step to improving ties between the two nations.

The business community in Japan also struck a positive note, expressing hope that the accord will boost bilateral economic ties.

Bearing in mind negotiations such as that of a trilateral free trade agreement involving Japan, South Korea and China, an official at a major trading firm said, “The foundation has been laid to make progress in trade negotiations.”

  • Tando

    If this agreement paves the way to improved relations between the two countries, it can’t be praised enough. Japan, China and South Korea are all playing the nationalism card to forward their own political agendas. What I don’t understand
    is, where does the sudden change of mind of PM Abe come from. He appears more like the chalk eating wolf with ulterior intentions. Or was it indeed American
    pressure that led to the accord. Does Abe for example intend to remove one of
    the last obstacles to shelf the ugly truth of Japanese aggression? At issue are
    not only the comfort women but the awareness that is was not only something
    that WENT wrong but rather that there WAS something wrong in Japan. One of the commentators of Abe’s WW2 commemoration speech last summer mentioned that, all the required keywords like deep remorse where there, but that the subject was omitted. War here is often seen as a huge natural disaster that claims its victims on both sides. Funny thing is I only see the suffering of the Japanese on TV.
    On the history part it can be said that Japan and Germany which formed a national state only very late in the 19th century where the late comers in the race of imperialistic hegemony and therefore destined to clash with the established powers. What distinguished the two countries though was the degree of fanatic, authoritarian ultra nationalism with a disdain for the suffering of human beings inside and outside their own countries. While Germany has acknowledged this dark episode of its history there is no such awareness here in Japan. Abe is trying to rehabilitate the legacy of his grandfather Kishi Nobusku who was part of the military elite that dragged Japan into the darkest period of its history. These elites are also revered to as Gunbatsu 軍閥(military cliques).If you check this term on Wikipedia there is a detailed description about the role of the military only in the English version. If you check the Japanese version there is no such reference. If you point out these discrepancies you are told that you are a victim of the Korean and Chinese conspiracy against Japan in which the facts and numbers are distorted. If you don’t want to lose your job or other social connections you better stop here. Last summer I went to Khun Yuam a little town at the Thai, Miyanmar border. The Japanese army had a base there during WW2 from where troops were sent into the war in Burma. When I visited the so called Thai, Japan friendship house I was amazed to find a glorification of the Japanese military with a huge portrait of Tojo Hideki next to the flag of the rising sun greeting you in the exhibition hall. Abe’s beautiful Japan is just barely veiled nationalism and as such a huge obstacle in the attempt to come to terms with Japan`s history issues.

  • Tando

    The US is certainty complicit in reestablishIng the old Japanese guard. The foundation of the LDP was funded by the US during the age of the beginning cold war. Abe’s grandfather Kishi was promoted from war criminal to prime minister. The LDP dominated post war politics and it’s revisionism. I wonder if Japan would have developed differently without interference from the US.