The head of the Upper House has sent a letter to her South Korean counterpart asking him to retract comments urging the emperor to make an apology regarding the issue of the “comfort women,” sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.
As there was no reply from National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang, House of Councilors President Akiko Santo decided not to arrange one-on-one talks with him on the sidelines of a multilateral meeting next week, the sources said.
The term “comfort women” is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
In February, Moon came under fire from Japan for saying an apology from then-Emperor Akihito would resolve a long-standing dispute over the issue.
“It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan — I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon,” Moon was quoted as saying in an interview with Bloomberg. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes?”
The comments were made ahead of April’s abdication of Emperor Akihito — the eldest son of Emperor Hirohito, who reigned during the war and is posthumously known as Emperor Showa — who ruled for 30 years.
In a September meeting with the South Korean ambassador to Japan, Nam Gwan-pyo, Santo termed Moon’s remarks as “incredibly rude” and “unacceptable.”
According to sources familiar with the matter, Santo received a letter in October from Moon apologizing to “those who had been hurt” by his comments. Dissatisfied, Santo wrote back asking for a retraction but received no response.
Santo is a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
She is set to chair the meeting between parliamentary heads of the Group of 20 major economies on Monday in Tokyo.
The comfort women issue has long been a sticking point between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul pushing for reparations while Tokyo argues it has already done enough.
The two countries reached an agreement in 2015, but the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came into power in 2017, concluded that the deal had failed to reflect the opinions of surviving victims.
The decision, along with South Korean court rulings ordering compensation for forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and Tokyo’s subsequent move to tighten trade controls against Seoul,has seen relations sink to the lowest point in years.