On Monday, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued a statement apologizing for Japan’s past colonialism and aggression. He also decided that day not to visit Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan’s militarism in the 1930s and ’40s. Instead, he visited and laid flowers at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery for unknown soldiers located near Yasukuni Shrine.
He did the right thing at a time when Japan’s relations with neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea, are tense over the issue of Japan’s perception of modern history. The important thing now is that he follow up these performances with efforts that translate into sustained policies.
Although the statement of apology was not read by Mr. Koizumi himself, the core part of it said: “In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Sincerely facing these facts of history, I once again express my feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology, and also express the feelings of mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, in the war.”
These words are similar to the speech he delivered during the Bandung, Indonesia, meeting of Asian and African leaders in April. It also is in line with the statement issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.
The special weight of the latest statement should not be dismissed. Based on a Cabinet decision, it is the first official war apology by the Japanese government since Mr. Murayama’s statement, which was also based on a Cabinet decision. It represents the official position of the Japanese government on Japan’s modern war.
Given the fact that Mr. Koizumi hails from a conservative group in the Liberal Democratic Party, his repetition of the words assume greater importance. By contrast, Mr. Murayama chaired the the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party, which had been traditionally more critical of Japan’s militarist history than the LDP, and headed a JSP-LDP coalition government. In a sense, therefore, Mr. Murayama’s statement tended to be taken as a matter of course.
The Koizumi statement is also stronger than a resolution adopted Aug. 2 by the Lower House for the 60th anniversary of the war’s end. The Lower House failed to include the terms “colonial rule” and “acts of aggression” in its statement, although the terms appeared in a similar Lower House resolution adopted in 1995.
While Mr. Koizumi’s statement omits a phrase that Mr. Murayama included — “Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war”– it repeats three times Japan’s determination not to go to war again, with the following phrases: “I reaffirm my determination that Japan must never again take the path to war”; “I am determined not to allow the lessons of that horrible war to erode, and to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world without ever again waging a war”; and “In order to contribute to world peace, Japan will proactively fulfill its role as a responsible member of the international community, upholding its pledge not to engage in war.”
The problem is that Mr. Koizumi’s conduct so far has not been conducive to the spirit expressed in the statement. A typical example is his four visits to Yasukuni Shrine since 2001. The stated purpose of his Yasukuni visits were to pledge never to go to war again. But because of Yasukuni’s historical role, neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea, took those visits as an indication that Mr. Koizumi viewed Japan’s modern war in a positive light.
In addition, the Koizumi government has not taken strong action against some politicians, including Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama, for recent “irregular” remarks concerning Japan’s war past. Now that his war apologies have been issued twice this year, it is all the more important that Mr. Koizumi demonstrate a stronger sense of responsibility for such a public pledge.
In his statement, Mr. Koizumi also said, “I believe it is necessary to work hand in hand with other Asian countries, especially with China and the Republic of Korea, which are Japan’s neighboring countries separated only by a strip of water, to maintain peace and pursue the development of the region.”
He continues, “Through squarely facing the past and rightly recognizing the history, I intend to build a future-oriented cooperative relationship based on mutual understanding and trust with Asian countries.” These words should represent the mind-set of all thinking Japanese.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.