Okada acknowledges past wrongs in Seoul

The Hatoyama government’s campaign to revitalize Japan’s bilateral relationships in Asia continues, with Foreign Okada Katsuya’s visiting South Korea for the first time as foreign minister for meetings with President Lee and other senior officials.

While Americans are focused on celebrating what is being called the fiftieth anniversary of the US-Japan alliance this year, a more significant anniversary this year may be the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea. The South Korean government has expressed its desire for a joint statement that will include a proper statement of remorse by Japan for its actions in Korea from 1910 until 1945.

In a meeting Thursday with Yu Myung-hwan, minster of foreign affairs and trade, Okada unambivalently expressed his understanding for the pain caused to the Korean people by Japan’s usurpation of their country, and expressed his desire that the two countries can settle their disputes and build a forward-looking relationship.

Of course, Japan has apologized to South Korea before, and many — not only conservatives — will wonder why Japan has to apologize again. Okada’s remarks provide some hint as to why Japan still has work to do on historical reconciliation. Rarely has a Japanese statesman shown that he is apologizing because he has looked at his country’s behavior through the eyes of its victims and come to appreciate just how destructive Japan’s actions were.

Diametrically opposed to Okada’s attitude is that of Japan’s revisionist right, which not only thinks Japan did nothing it has to apologize for in Korea or China, but actually denies that the Koreans and Chinese have legitimate grievances against Japan. Consider the arguments made by Tamogami Toshio, the now-retired Air Self-Defense Forces general who has become a prominent conservative spokesman since being driven from the service for his essay denying that Japan was an aggressor. In that essay, not only does Tamogami claim that Japan “advanced into” Korea with the “understanding” of its government (so understanding, in fact, that Korea’s ruling dynasty willingly signed a treaty ending its own reign, willingly if one ignores the Korean government’s pleas to the Western powers at The Hague to save it from Japan), he claims that under Japanese rule Korea was “prosperous and safe.” After all, he writes, Korea’s population nearly doubled! The Japanese were in Korea as liberators! (“The people in these areas were released from the oppression they had been subjected to up until then, and their standard of living markedly improved.”) Japan built universities in its colonies! It permitted Koreans to fight for Japan!

No mention, of course, of what the Korean people wanted. Did they ask for Japan to develop their country for them? Or to replace the Korean language with Japanese, Korean names with Japanese names? For that matter, did they ask for the privilege of fighting and dying on behalf of the Japanese emperor?

It is for this reason that Okada’s almost matter-of-fact statement is significant. It should be simply a matter of fact when a Japanese official acknowledges the tremendous pain caused by his country to its neighbors — and that a not insignificant portion of elite opinion can see little or nothing wrong with Japan’s behavior means that there is a great need for more matter-of-fact statements like Okada’s, and yes, a joint statement that unambiguously acknowledges Japan’s wrongdoing in specific terms (not just the general statements of remorse) while looking to build a new relationship for the future.

As a final note on this matter, I think it is important to take issue with Tamogami’s comparison of Japan’s behavior in Korea with the behavior of the Western powers in their Asian colonies (the British in India is a favorite example). While the comparison has some merits, it is by no means the best comparison. The best comparison that comes to mind when I think of Japanese rule in Korea is not the British in India but the British in Ireland. After all, how can British rule in India — which was in many ways indirect, even after 1857 — be compared to the brutal domination of an immediate neighbor? Indeed, British rule in Ireland was far more brutal than even Japanese rule in Korea, lasting longer and having ever-more devastating consequences. The Great Potato Famine, for which Tony Blair apologized early in his premiership, was only one of the more monstrous moments in the bloody history of British rule in Ireland. The Irish still curse Oliver Cromwell, nearly four centuries after his invasion of Ireland cemented British rule.

The point of looking to British rule in Ireland is that nations have long memories — even longer memories when the harm done to them was by a close neighbor, nations with shared destinies thanks to geography. On top of the weight of history is the natural resentment felt by small countries at being dominated by their larger neighbors. Why should Japanese expect that Koreans will simply “get over” Japanese rule, which began only a century ago and was brutal in its own right, if not nearly as prolonged or as total as British rule in Ireland? More importantly, what right do Japanese have to tell Koreans (or Chinese) what the appropriate level of remorse is? Japanese leaders need to stop thinking of the rectification of history has simply being a matter of the number of apologies rendered and recognize, as Okada does (and, I think, Prime Minister Hatoyama does), that less important than the number of apologies is seeing history through Korean or Chinese eyes and acknowledging that the humiliation experienced by colonized peoples is not something that can be balanced out by a list of universities established or a tabulation of miles of train tracks built, and, moreover, cannot be expressed in terms of the numbers of victims, as meaningful as those numbers are. As the Irish experience suggests, in some way these wounds never heal completely.

But at least the Hatoyama government is determined to take a big step forward. Building a constructive relationship with South Korea is too important to allow Japan to continue to be held back by the unwillingness of Japanese nationalists to accept any people’s love of country but their own as legitimate.

14 thoughts on “Okada acknowledges past wrongs in Seoul

  1. When is Japan going to apologize for the 1592-98 invasions of Korea? I'm surprised Korea is not demanding that apology. Maybe because Tokugawa Ieyasu blamed the invasions on Hideyoshi and the Koreans accepted that.


  2. I agree with Tobias's general assertion that building good relationship with South Korea is important for Japan's security. However, I do not agree with your idea that the resolving remorse or resentment on the Korean side is the basis of such relationship. Let me explain why.First, Japanese past relationships with Korea and China are totally different. Japan was fighting war not against Korea, but against China. Korea was mostly under peaceful annexation, but in China, hot war was raging with massive number of people being killed. Second, even though Tamogami's attitude looks diplomatically unwise, many points he raised are factually correct. Or I would say they are much more close to the reality than the Korean version of the narrative. Yes, the population doubled. Yes, public health was improved. Yes, cities were modernized. Yes, Japan built Seoul University. Yes, Japan built railways. Yes, Japan planted trees on bald mountains. Yes, Japan promoted Hangul (actually the first Hangul dictionary was created by Japan), except during the last several years of the crazy war.


  3. Third, there are many points factually wrong about popular Korean myths. Japan did not conscript 200,000 sex-slaves from Korea. By the way, Japan did not change the name of Sea of Japan. The sea was named by Europeans. Japan did not force draft on Koreans until the last year of the war (Sept 1944). Before the draft, joining the IJA was voluntary, and there were massive applicants to the chosen few spots. Actually, the late president Park was educated in military academy in Manchuria. The numbers of applicants to IJA are as follows. Considering that the population of 25 million in the Peninsula (1944), 0.3 million young male applicants to IJA is not a small number. Half of the population is women, and if one assumes a quarter of population is in appropriate age, then this means one in ten of the eligible people applied.http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9C%9D%E9%AE%AE%E4%BA%BA%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E5%85%B5 applicants accepted1938 2,946 4061939 12,348 6131940 84,443 3,0601941 144,743 3,2081942 254,273 4,0771943 303,394 6,000http://gc.sfc.keio.ac.jp/class/2005_14969/slides/12/20.htmlPopulation in the Peninsula (in millions)1753 7.31850 7.51906 9.81910 13.121920 16.911930 19.681940 22.951944 25.12


  4. Japan did not force Koreans to Japanize their Korean names. Japan forced them to use \”Japanese style family name system\” instead of \”Confucian style paternal clan name system\”. The issue was how to adjust civil laws to the reality at the time with increasing intermarriage. Considering that many old time Korean residents in Japan use Japanized names, but most Chinese old timers use Chinese name, I think it would be fair to assume that Koreans changed their name as they thought fit. For example, 張本勲 (real name 張 勲) is Korean, 王貞治 (his real name) is Chinese. Korean residents in Japan use their Japanized name even among themselves. For example, Shin Sugok 辛淑玉, a famous Korean activist said:http://www.jcj.gr.jp/hokkaido/report02/1109shin/youshi.htm在日の1月1日は日本のような正月をせず、「ミョンジョル(名節)」という法事のようなことをするので、大晦日はおじいさん、 おばあさんの家に行って女の子が台所で準備をします。その時、おじいさんが「節子(私の日本名)、来い」と呼ぶのです。In this case, her grandfather called her Setsuko, her Japanized name.http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/aneye21/38765819.html何度か、母は私の首を絞めた。 「節子、一緒に死のう」と言う。 私は、死ぬのは嫌だったけど、いつも「うん」と答えた。 母があまりにも可哀想だった。 母が死んだら私も生きていけないと思った。 だから、一度も抵抗しなかった。 何度も首を絞められたが、最後まで締め続けることはなかった。 もうろうとなった意識の中で、母の泣き声だけが聞こえていた。 父も母も、泣いてばかりいた。(辛淑玉著『鬼哭啾啾(きこくしゅうしゅう)——「楽園」に帰還した私の家族』解放出版社、2003年、初版、p.46)In this case, her mother called her Setsuko at this most intimate moment when she was strangling her daughter.Under Japanese administration, 90 % of Koreans Japanized their name, but in Taiwan, the number remained several percent. Some prominent Koreans used their Korean names any way. The one and only Korean congressman in prewar Tokyo used his Korean name (朴春琴). A lieutenant general executed as a class B war criminal also had a Korean name (洪思翊).Why Taiwanese did not Japanize their names, while Koreans did? Of course there could be numerous individual reasons. Traditional 事大主義 (respect of the powerful) could be a reason. Because of the geological reasons, Chinese influence over Korea runs deep. Korea has been given brutal lessons from China since the conquest by 武帝 of 前漢, Han dynasty, in 1st century AD. Currently, almost all Korean names are Chinese, but before 7th century, there are many records of non-Chinese names, which are long gone now.


  5. Tobias compares Japanese annexation of Korea (1905 protectorate, 1910 annexation) with British annexation of Ireland. In my opinion, closer example should be USA's annexation of Hawaii in 1898. Or rather, USA's annexation of Philippine after the Philippine-American war (1899-1902). Actually, around the time of the annexation, USA was a good imperial friend of Japan. USA recognized Japanese superiority over Korea in exchange of Japanese recognition of USA's annexation of Philippine. This is evidenced by the Katsura-Tuft agreement on Sept 27, 1905. If I infer from Tobias's characterization, should USA keep apologizing to Philippine? Or has USA ever apologized at all? In other words, does it improve the relationship between the two countries? If one looks at the current situations in South Korea and in Taiwan, and compare them with Philippine, I think it is obvious which annexation left better influence.(My translation of the whole text of the agreement between Katsura and Tuft.)Firstly, some of pro-Russian Americans insist that this victory of Japan over Russia will be the first stage of Philippine invasion by Japan. However, Secretary Tuft believes that the only concern of Japan towards Philippine is that the island should be governed by strong and friendly USA. Count Katsura firmly affirmed Tuft's observation, and assured that Japan has no intention of invasion of Philippine at all.Secondly, Count Katsura stated that the primary principle of Japanese diplomatic policy is to sustain overall peace in Far East. Therefore, in order to achieve that goal, the only practical method is to accomplish a good agreement among Japanese, American and British governments.Thirdly, Count Katsura said that since Korea is the direct cause of the war between Japan and Russia, the logical conclusion of the war should be the complete and final solution of the Peninsula issue, which has the absolute importance to Japan. If Korea were left alone, Korea would sign inconsiderate agreements or treaties with foreign countries, as she has been doing, which would certainly reproduce international conflicts which existed before the war.Regarding these situations, Japan thinks that Japan has to take serious options to prohibit Korea from returning to the previous situation, and from forcing Japan to fight war with foreign countries again.Secretary Tuft agreed on the Count Katsura's view and expressed, as his personal opinions, that it is the logical conclusion of the war that Japan provide protective governance of Korea, which requires Korea to acquire the agreement of Japan before Korea signs treaties with foreign countries, and that this will sustain the eternal peace over the East.Secretary Tuft said that he does not have the right to confirm his opinions, but according to him, President Roosevelt will surely agree with him.===Roosevelt telegraphed Tuft, saying that his opinions is correct in all aspects and that Tuft should convey the message to Count Katsura that his opinion is the words of the President. (Sept 31, 1905)


  6. Anonymous

    \”..Japanese leaders need to stop thinking of the rectification of history has simply being a matter of the number of apologies rendered and recognize,..\”But that is the Japanese way…harmony…apologising is 'harmoniuos', and one need not look at the transgretions, just the fact that one is apologising is enough! That is the Japanese way…which is why the laws here are based upon \”customs\”, not common law as in the UK, citing them again.Which, is why there has been no progress \”internationally\” on many issues in Japan, because the previous GoJ saw nothing wrong in what it did, they just smiled, bowed and apologised to each other, that's enough. Feelings, ramifications etc etc etc, have little consequence in the \”harmonious\” way of life in Japan. Just don't rock the boat!Hatoyama, well, what a break with this insular view of 'itself'. To do, albeit slowly, what his GoJ is doing or attempting to do,is worthy of praise indeed.I think buvery has gone so far of track he/she doesn't undertsand the concept of being \”occupied\” and what it does to ones country and the psychi of a nation.


  7. I think where Japan gets this wrong is by not educating the younger generations of what happened between 1900 and 1945.All Japanese know of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but little else.


  8. Re: Tornadoes 28Japan will not apologize. Just as ROK does not apologize for invading Japan in 13th century. Re: anonymous – the concept of occupationIn a sense, I agree with you. Lack of the concept is the reason why LDP governments have not demanded the return of Yokota and Yokosuka bases, together with Tokyo Air Space. The Japanese should understand the concept of occupation, really.


  9. Delta

    Though I do not object to Mr. Okada's apologising in terms so far reported, what annoys me is that some media choose to call it a \”rare\” apology:http://www.japanprobe.com/2010/02/12/yet-another-japanese-apology-to-korea/When things like that happen, this can only reinforce the perception that no matter what they do, the Japanese will, as far as mainstream media based in Allied countries in WW2 are concerned, still be the same old \”yellowberries\”. Here is something else which further reinforecs that perception:http://www.japanprobe.com/2010/02/13/3-japanese-injured-after-sea-shepherd-acid-attack/As for \”unwillingness… to accept any people's love of country but their own as legitimate\”, this IMO would apply nicely to those governments which label all those who gave their lives for Japan as \”war criminals\”, including those sailors who took part in the anti-U-boat campaign in the Mediterranean:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_U-boat_Campaign_%28World_War_I%29#Japanese_participationMost Japanese IMO do acknowledge other peoples' love of their countries as legitimate, but would certainly appreciate if only other people would also acknowlegde their love of Japan as equally legitimate.Finally GI Korea, no friend of Mr. Tamogami, had this to say:\”Prime Minister Abe could apologize for everything from the comfort women issue and the Nanjing Massacre to the Hideyoshi invasions of Korea starting in 1592 and the Japanese piracy of Shilla and Tang dynasty shipping even before then, followed by committing seppuku on top of Namsan mountain in Seoul for everyone to see and it would still not be enough for these governments because it provides them with a great domestic political weapon to disguise their own government failures by encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment. The only way to combat these demagogues is by making it embarrassing for these nations to bring up more demands for apologies when it would reflect negatively on their own current human rights failures to do so. It would no doubt be a bold measure, but I see no other way of ending the comfort women issue.\”Source:http://rokdrop.com/2007/06/15/japan-lawmakers-take-out-full-page-ad-on-comfort-women/


  10. Anonymous

    Refering to my previous comment, but a slight digression.Why do you think Toyota are in the pickle they currently are??..because they were \”handling\” the issue in the Japanese way, externally, ie outside Japan. Taking out full-page spreads in the newspapers humbling apologying from the bottom of their hearts is fine for Japanese consumers, that is what they expect, regardless of the 'crime' committed. But it doesn't wash outside Japan, period.Ergo, Hatayama, is indeed a break from the \”lets always doing things the old Japanese way\” because no one will complain, simply because we say sorry or just bow.If Toyota took a page out of Hatayama's book, the 'issues' would have been dealt with very quickly indeed, i'm sure.Since Toyota, cannot just bow and say sorry like Mitsibushi did, after their known design faults, killed a driver back in 2001, but, this was in Japan only. Mitshibushi got away with a slapped wrist, because they said sorry in the time honoured customed way that is Japan. No one was sent to prison nor even fined, because they said sorry!!!That is what the LDP has done for years, same old same old..hence no movement. Lets just ignore reality.Hatayama, it appears his outlook, is far more international, in terms of accountablity. As any Govt. should be.Hats off to him…


  11. Delta quotes GI Korea saying:\”Prime Minister Abe could apologize for everything … and it would still not be enough for these governments because it provides them with a great domestic political weapon to disguise their own government failures by encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment.\”The same is also true regarding comfort women. What is important is again how to frame the discussion. When Abe Shinzo was a prime minister, US congress passed a resolution condemning Imperial Japanese Army for the use of comfort women. Abe Shinzo reacted with a denial, which produced much deeper counter reaction. I can understand why he reacted that way, but it was not wise.The typical story of comfort women is:(A) More than 200,000 Korean young women were abducted by IJA and forced into prostitution.But the reality was:(B) Unknown number of Japanese, Korean or other Asian prostitutes were recruited by brothel owners (often Korean) and were servicing IJA in exchange of money. IJA were offering infrastructure, transportation, protection and sometimes medical examination. IJA was not recruiting women directly, so there are no records in IJA. All the records are about assist that IJA gave, such as transportation.These are two different issues. Comfort women A is a war crime, but it is difficult to claim comfort women B is also a war crime, because in that case, almost all sex industry around US bases around the world are committing war crimes, even in present Korea. This is not limited to US bases. Nazi Germany, French in Viet Nam, US in Viet Nam, all took the same form. Russians raped women in Manchuria and in Berlin, so they did not bother to set up brothels.In most cases, it was comfort women (B). There were rare cases of comfort women (A). That is why in the testimony at the US congress, O'Herne was included, because she was comfort women (A). So far there is no concrete record of Korean comfort women (A). All of them are comfort women (B).These are what I wrote at that time.http://buvery.blogspot.com/2007/04/why-jan-ruff-oherne-has-to-be-comfort.htmlhttp://buvery.blogspot.com/2007/04/why-jan-ruff-oherne-has-to-be-comfort_04.htmlThen what Abe Shinzo should have said? I would say, \”Japan welcomes that US now seriously considers sexual abuse and exploitation by military to be punished and compensated. Historical details should be clarified by competent historians, and compensation by state should be dealt with appropriate treaties. The important thing is, IJA ceased to exist more than 60 years ago. We have to stop sexual abuse and exploitation still present in this world. Even though it is a difficult issue, Japan is ready to do so.\”


  12. Totally, I don't stand by the views of revisionists, but I know facts are included in what they point out. It is a fact that it was difficult for Korea to modernize by herself without the experience of colonization. I don't say that Japan made efforts in order to make Koreans happier. However, the modernization of Korea was accomplished through the era of colonization. It is just a fact.You try to control our impression. For example, you add \”!!!\” to the opinions that you don't stand by. This is an effort to make them laughingstocks. Such an attitude is not fair.


  13. Re: Kaz says somebody uses \”!!!\”The only person who uses \”!!!\” in this comment thread is Anonymous writing about Toyota and \”I'm sorry\” culture of Japan. He is not a revisionist at all. His is a typical orientalism (we the west is the standard and those insular people behave differently, chrysanthemum and sword). As for subjective feeling about the facts of history, I think people are entitled to their feelings. It is completely understandable to say that we are sorry for hurting somebody's feelings or pride. All I am saying is that it is unreasonable to form feeling based on what did not happen. For those \”feelings\” based on non-facts, all I can say is that is unreasonable, and I feel sorry about it.


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