Japan’s Apologies to Korea

It has been hard to keep up with all the renewed excitement generated by the anti-Japan protests in China. It has reopened discussion on all the classic issues in Sino-Japanese relations since the early 1980s.

In a series of blog entries (one on apologies to Korea, one on apologies to China, and one on revisionist gaffes by Japanese government officials), I think I want to collect some reference materials that might be useful to interested readers on this issue. I’m very busy with school so I won’t promise to be as thorough as I would like (nor can I say when I’ll finish all three) but would appreciate if others will consider emailing me with more material for inclusion in future updates to these entries. They will thus be in flux without the usual “UPDATE” marker.

These statements vary from blunt apologies to vague and ambiguous statements of regret. Some of them had an interesting aftermath which led people to question their sincerity and actual content. Keep in mind as you read that my own position on this issue is this: I’m frustrated at how pathetically uninformed many of the people who are discussing this issue online and throughout the media are. I think it is ridiculous to claim that Japan has never apologized, nor do I find such apologies particularly useful as such statements of national regret are of limited value to the victims of past aggression and violence. If you want to be angry about “whitewashing” the past, then this is not where your energies should be focused. On the other hand, I am equally frustrated by right-wing (and increasingly mainstream) Japanese commentary which seems to think that the story of apologies is one of repeated clear expressions of admitted responsibility and which fails to see how conflicting messages given by leading government officials, especially among the increasing numbers of conservative bureaucrats and politicians who read the revisionist accounts of Japan’s past war, can create a complete lack of trust among the agitated peoples of Korea and China in the genuine and sincere feelings of regret which are still felt (and when given the chance, expressed) by the majority of people in Japan.

Important: I’m pooling this together from all sorts of sources, many of them online and thus of dubious accuracy (especially since many right-wing sites are compiling these statements for their own rhetorical purposes), let me know when you find mistakes. Also, I don’t really want to deal with the various translations and such for right now so I’m going to just pool them together and we can sort the appropriate translations vs. official translations out over time.

Ok, let us begin:

Statements of Apology and Regret Relevant to Korea

1965.2.17 Shiina Etsusaburo (Foreign Minister) Statement made at the airport on his arrival for treaty negotiations. “We feel great regret and deep remorse over the unhappy phase in the long history of relations between the two countries.” Notes: Commentators noticed that the subject of the sentence could not be identified and thus it is not clear that “we” is referring to Japan. It was also noted that in his 1963 book he declared that “Japan administered Taiwan, annexed Korea, and tried to realize the ideal of harmonious coexistence among five ethnic groups in Manchurai. Form the Meiji era on, the purpose of these attempts was to defend Asia and maintain Japan’s independence against the threat of Western imperialist might. If it is true that these acts were acts of Japanese imperialism, that imperialism was glorious.” It was hard to find Shiina to be sincere in his later statement while in Korea. I need the original Japanese for this for posting here. Wasn’t Shiina’s statement later disowned by the Japanese gov?

1982.8.24 Suzuki Zenkô (Prime Minister) At a press conference during the first textbook crisis of 1982. “I am painfully aware of the responsibility for inflicting serious damages (on some Asian countries) during the past war.” J:「過去の戦争を通じ、重大な損害を与えた責任を深く痛感している」 “We need to recognize/acknowledge criticism that (Japan’s occupation) was invasion.” J: 「『侵略』という批判もあることは認識する必要がある」 Notes: Is it safe to say that there is an ambiguity in the word 認識 which could either imply that you acknowledge safely from a distance the criticism without necessarily believing it to be correct? – Nomadism has commented on this issue below, and with a small correction on my part, suggests the translation, “(We) need to be aware that there is even criticism that (Japan’s occupation) was invasion.”

1982.8.26 Suzuki Zenkô (Prime Minister) I’m not sure if this is the same press conference as above, but according to this document, the following statement was issued: “Japan and the people of Japan are deeply conscious of the fact that in the past our actions have caused a great deal of pain and loss to the countries of Asia, including China and Korea, and we are building the foundations of our future as peaceful country upon our reflection upon this fact and our resolve never to it happen again.” (MT) J: 日本政府及び日本国民は,過去において,我が国の行為が韓国・中国を含むアジアの国々の国民に多大の苦痛と損害を与えたことを深く自覚し,このようなことを二度と繰り返してはならないとの反省と決意の上に立って平和国家としての道を歩んで来た。

1983.1 Nakasone Yasuhiro (Prime Minister) “We must solemnly accept the fact that in the regrettable past there was a tragic time between our two countries.” (MT) J: 「両国関係は、遺憾ながら過去の歴史において不幸な歴史があったのは事実であり、これを厳粛に受け止めなければならない」 Notes: Where and in what context was this statement issued? Was it to Korea? Nakasone is one of the most reactionary and right-wing of recent Prime Ministers and has little no real regret for the past, except that Japan lost. He established the practice of visiting Yasukuni shrine, beginning I believe on August 15, 1985. However, he apparently said in 1986 that “The fact of aggression cannot be denied.”

1984.9.7 Showa Emperor (Hirohito) “I find it genuinely regrettable that there was such a tragic period during this century.” J: 「今世紀の一時期において、不幸な過去が存在したことは、まことに遺憾」 J: Later at the banquet Prime Minister Nakasone declared “(Japan) brought enormous difficulty to your country and your people.” J: 「貴国および貴国民に多大な困難をもたらした」 “I feel sense of regret about that” J: 「深い遺憾の念を覚える」 I have also seen this translation: “I have also seen this translation of a Nakasone statement during this affair in Wakamiya but not sure which statement it corresponds to: “The fact cannot be denied that Japan caused great suffering to your country and your people during a certain period during this century.  I would like to announce that the Japanese government and people express deep regret for the wrongs done to you and are determined to strictly caution themselves against repeating them in the future” Separately (?) the emperor said: “I feel deep regret at the fact that during this century there was a time of great sorrow between our two countries and this must never be allowed to repeat itself” (MT) 「今世紀の一時期において、両国間に不幸な過去があった事は誠に遺憾であり、再び繰り返されてはならない。」

1990.5.24 Heisei Emperor (Akihito) J: “I can’t help feeling the deepest regret when I think of the suffering of the people of your country in this unfortunate period brought on by my country.” J: 「わが国によってもたらされたこの不幸な時期に、貴国の人々が味わわれた苦しみを思い、私は痛惜の念を禁じえません」

1990.5.25 Kaifu Toshiki (Prime Minister) “I humbly feel deep regret and express forthright apology for the fact that the people of the Korean peninsula experienced unbearable anguish and grief because of our country’s action.” J: 「過去の一時期、朝鮮半島の方々が、我が国の行為により耐えがたい苦しみと悲しみを体験されたことについて、謙虚に反省し、率直にお詫びの気持ちを申し述べたい」 Notes: You can find this here.

1992.1.17 Miyazawa Kiichi (Prime Minister) “Let me apologize from the bottom of my heart for the unspeakable pains inflicted [on the “comfort women”] Alt: “I’d like to apologize and humbly express deep regret, from the bottom of my heart, for people who went through a lot of hardships beyond description.” J: 「筆舌に尽くしがたい辛酸を舐められた方々に衷心よりお詫びし反省したい」 and “I feel a lump in my throat.” 「胸がつまる重い」 I don’t know if this is a separate statement or alternate version but I also found this dated the same day: “One thing we must never forget about the relationship between our two countries is that amongst the thousands years of relations between us there was a period in which we were aggressors and you were victims. I want to express here and now that I have felt the deep pain that my country’s actions has led to for the people of the Korean peninsula. I want to express my feelings of deep regret and apology. Recently we have heard about the so-called “comfort women” issue and I feel deep pain about this in my heart and want to express my sincere apologies.” (MT) J: 「我が国と貴国との関係で忘れてはならないのは、数千年にわたる交流のなかで、歴史上の一時期に,我が国が加害者であり、貴国がその被害者だったという事実であります。私は、この間、朝鮮半島の方々が我が国の行為により耐え難い苦しみと悲しみを体験されたことについて、ここに改めて、心からの反省の意とお詫びの気持ちを表明いたします。最近、いわゆる従軍慰安婦の問題が取り上げられていますが,私は、このようなことは実に心の痛むことであり,誠に申し訳なく思っております。」Notes: It would be nice to have the lines that came before and after this to confirm the comfort women context. The first English translation I found in a book by Wakamiya Yoshibumi doesn’t match perfectly. Need to clean up translations that were found. Also need to sort out the story between the two differing statements. The latter is found in the excellent and reliable database here (Japanese).

1993.8.4 Kono Yohei (Foreign Minister) “The government wishes to take this occasion to deeply reflect upon the past and offer its apology to each of those individuals known as former military comfort women, regardless of their origin, for having caused unlimited pain as well as permanent physical and emotional scars. As to how the state should express its feelings on this matter, I believe we should continue serious consideration through consultation with experts.” Separate statement admitting Japan’s use of comfort stations and military involvement. Unofficial Foreign ministry translation of this statement here which included the lines “Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women. It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment. We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.” Notes: I need the original Japanese for both statements and what is the relationship with the other statement by the Foreign Minister, was one verbal issued with the statement?

1993.11.7 Hosokawa Morihiro (Prime Minister) Made a statement during a short 22 hour visit to Korea in order to issue an official apology to Korea. “As an assailant country of the last war, I’d like to express deep regret from the bottom of my heart and apologize for the fact that my country’s colonial occupation deprived the people of the Korean peninsula opportunities to learn their own language, forced them to have Japanese names, brought them experiences of unbearable anguish and grief by army draft and comfort women.” Here is Wakamiya on Hosokawa’s statement, “During Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, the Korean people were forced to suffer unbearable pain and sorrow in various ways. They were deprived of the opportunity to learn their mother tongue at school, they were forced to adopt Japanese names, forced to provide sex as “comfort women” for Japanese troops, forced to provide labor. I hereby express genuine contrition and offer my deepest apologies for my country, the aggressor’s acts.” J: 「わが国の植民地支配によって、朝鮮半島の方々が、母国語教育の機会を奪われたり、姓名を日本式に改名させられたり、従軍慰安婦、徴用などで、耐えがたい苦しみと悲しみを体験された事に加害者として、心より反省し、陳謝したい。」 Notes:Hosokawa was the grandson of wartime Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro and head of the Japan New Party. He took a new approach to the wartime responsibility issue. He lasted only 8 months but the remnants of his party became the current DPJ Democratic party. The translation should be cleaned up.

1994.7.24 Murayama Tomiichi (Prime Minister) On a visit to Korea. “I wish to express an apology and deep regret from the bottom of my heart.” J: 「心からのお詫びと厳しい反省の気持ちを申し上げたい」 Notes: Murayama was the head of the Japan Socialist Party but in coalition with their moral enemy the Liberal Democrat Party. This unholy alliance contributed to the decline of the JSP which almost completely collapsed. This statement of apology is probably the most direct and representative of the kind of wording in an apology that might be reasonably expected by Asian countries. Critics note that as a socialist Prime Minister Murayama’s apology wording was despised by many Diet members, opposition parties and bureaucrats. They are right.

1995.6.9 Diet of Representatives A watered down statement was issued by the Diet (see posting on this coming soon) which includes the following “On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, this House offers its sincere condolences to those who fell in action and victims of wars and similar actions all over the world. Solemnly reflecting upon many instances of colonial rule and acts of aggression in the modern history of the world, and recognizing that Japan carried out those acts in the past, inflicting pain and suffering upon the peoples of other countries, especially in Asia, the Members of this House express a sense of deep remorse.” J: 本院は、戦後五十年にあたり、全世界の戦没者および戦争等による犠牲者に対し、追悼の誠を捧げる。また、世界の近代史における数々の植民地支配や侵略行為に想いをいたし、我が国が過去に行ったこうした行為や他国民とくにアジア諸国民に与えた苦痛を認識し、深い反省の念を表明する。我々は、過去の戦争についての歴史観の相違を超え、歴史の教訓を謙虚に学び、平和な国際社会を築いていかなければならない。Notes: Notice the “sharing” of responsibility at work here by noting that Japan’s colonial behavior was consistent with that of other nations. This marks one of the many changes required to get 230 out of 251 (about half the Diet didn’t even show up for the vote) to pass. While certainly not inaccurate, this addition led to serious criticism and may be why Murayama’s later statement on August 15th is the most consistently referred to by the Foreign Ministry.

1995.8.15 Murayama Tomiichi (Prime Minister) On the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Full text on Foreign Ministry site. ” During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.” J: 「わが国は、遠くない過去の一時期、国策を誤り、戦争への道を歩んで国民を存亡の危機に陥れ、植民地支配と侵略によって、多くの国々、とりわけアジア諸国の人々に対して多大の損害と苦痛を与えました。私は、未来に誤ち無からしめんとするが故に、疑うべくもないこの歴史の事実を謙虚に受け止め、ここにあらためて痛切な反省の意を表し、心からのお詫びの気持ちを表明いたします。また、この歴史がもたらした内外すべての犠牲者に深い哀悼の念を捧げます。」 Notes: It looks like there is a separate verbal statement by Murayama which is similar but has slightly different wording. Any thoughts? Also this statement was significantly watered down thanks to opposition from dozens of conservative Liberal Democrat Diet members. Some of the debate in the Diet on this reveals the deep revisionist leanings of many of these Diet members. Can someone look up the original resolution’s wording? Also, it looks like Murayama had already made his own position, expressed so clearly in this speech, almost a year earlier in this statement about his policy plans for a “Plan for Exchanges of Peace and Friendship” which you can find here. Again, make no mistake about it, this statement has since been embraced by prime ministers and the foreign ministry as the position of the Japanese government, despite resistance at the time. So even, for example, right-wing Hashimoto is found saying things like 「日本政府は、第二次世界大戦敗戦の日から五十周年の1995年、内閣総理大臣談話という形をとりまして、我が国として、過去の日本の行為が中国を含む多くの人々に対し、耐え難い悲しみと苦しみを与えた、これに対して深い反省の気持ちの上に立ち、お詫びを申し上げながら、平和のために力を尽くそうとの決意を発表しました。私自身がその談話の作成に関わった閣僚の一人です。」  There are many other examples where the August 15th statement is referred to in this way.

1996.6 Hashimoto Ryutaro (Prime Minister) “It is beyond all imagination how much being forced to adopt Japanese names must have hurt the Korean people.” J: 「創始改名などが、いかに多くの韓国の方の心を傷付けたかは想像に余る」 “Nothing has ever hurt the honor and dignity of women (more than comfort women issue). I’d like to express my apology and deep regret from the bottom of my heart.” J: 「(従軍慰安婦問題について)これほどの女性の名誉と尊厳を傷付けた問題はない。心からお詫びと反省の言葉を申し上げたい。」 Notes: Looks like this can be found here. Of course, this is the same right-wing prime minister who visited Yasukuni and has said things like “What alternatives did our nation’s leaders have in those times…The course that our country eventually opted for – whatever better options may in hindsight appear to have existed – I cannot bring myself to dismiss curtly as a war of aggression” in 1994 while in 1996 talking about “a history of colonial rule and aggression” and “inflicted untold losses and suffering” Hashimoto also led the fight to significantly water down the apology that was issued by Murayama in 1994.

1998.10.8 Heisei Emperor (Akihito) “The days of my country inflicting enormous hardships on the people of the Korean peninsula. . . . Deep sorrow.” J: 「わが国が朝鮮半島の人々に大きな苦しみを与えた時代…深い悲しみ」

1998.10 Obuchi Keizo (Prime Minister) “I offer my deep regret and heartfelt apology to the people of South Korea” 「韓国国民に対し、痛切な反省と心からのお詫び」 See also the Japan-Korea joint declaration which came out of this.

2001.4.3 Fukuda Yasuo (Chief Cabinet Secretary) “Japan humbly accepts that for a period in the not too distant past, it caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations, through its colonial rule and aggression, and expresses its deep remorse and heartfelt apology for this. Such recognition has been succeeded by subsequent Cabinets and there is no change regarding this point in the present Cabinet” Notes: In a statement made about the 2002 textbooks found here. Can someone find the Japanese version on the MOFA Japanese web page?

2001.9.8 Tanaka Makiko (Foreign Minister) “We have never forgotten that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries during the last war. Many lost their precious lives and many were wounded. The war has left an incurable scar on many people, including former prisoners of war. Facing these facts of history in a spirit of humility, I reaffirm today our feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology expressed in the Prime Minister Murayama’s statement of 1995″ J: 日本は、先の大戦において多くの国の人々に対して多大な損害と苦痛を与えたことを決して忘れてはおりません。多くの人々が貴重な命を失ったり、傷を負われました。また、元戦争捕虜を含む多くの人々の間に癒しがたい傷跡を残しています。こうした歴史の事実を謙虚に受け止め、1995年の村山内閣総理大臣談話の痛切な反省の意及び心からのお詫びの気持ちをここに再確認いたします。 Notes: Full statement here and in Japanese here. Said during anniversary of San Francisco treaty.

2001.10.15 Koizumi Junichiro (Prime Minister – via web statement) “During the talks, President Kim highly appreciated the words of the Prime Minister Koizumi at Sodaemun Independence Park, in which he expressed remorse and apology for Japan’s colonial domination” Notes: This is an indirect quote, where is the most direct version of this and the Japanese version?

2002.9.17 Koizumi Junichiro (Prime Minister) On trip to North Korea. See the full text of the Pyongyang Declaration. The Japanese is here. “The Japanese side regards, in a spirit of humility, the facts of history that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Korea through its colonial rule in the past, and expressed deep remorse and heartfelt apology.” J: 日本側は、過去の植民地支配によって、朝鮮の人々に多大の損害と苦痛を与えたという歴史の事実を謙虚に受け止め、痛切な反省と心からのお詫びの気持ちを表明した。

2003.8.15 Koizumi Junichiro (Prime Minister) “During the war, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. On behalf of the people of Japan, I hereby renew my feelings of profound remorse as I express my sincere mourning to the victims” J: あの戦いは、我が国のみならず多くの国々、とりわけアジアの近隣諸国に対しても多くの苦しみと悲しみを与えました。私は、この事実を謙虚に受けとめ、深い反省とともに、ここに謹んで哀悼の意を表したいと思います。 Notes: Made same day he visited Yasukuni. Full statement here and in Japanese (EUC) here.

There are a number of other relevant statements but mostly they quote from the 1995 Murayama statement in response to questions about Japan’s apologies. Let me know if I’m missing any important statements or if there is more interesting background material and context about individual statements.

Links and Sources:

Wakamiya, Yoshibumi 若宮啓文 The Postwar Conservative View of Asia: How the Political Right Has Delayed Japan’s Coming to Terms With Its History of Aggression in Asia (Tokyo, LTCB International Library Foundation, 1999)

Japan Foreign Ministry Statements Related to Postwar Issues – Note that MOFA is very protective of the language of apologies and they only host the Murayama statement here, not many of the other formulations of apologies and statements of regret.

Tanaka Akira’s Database of Documents Related to Japan’s Relations with the World– A great collection of documents with special sections for the Korean peninsula and for China.
List of Statements of Apology (Japanese) Looks like revisionist site.
Some Translation Exercises which include apology statements (Japanese and English) – Looks like revisionist site.
Another Site Listing Apologies in English

J: Japanese translation
MT: My quick and dirty translation, other translations are taken from various sources. Some of them have or will be modified as we notice discrepancies.

13 thoughts on “Japan’s Apologies to Korea”

  1. Pingback: Simon World
  2. Interesting. I’d be interested in the next one on apologies to China.

    Also I think you have a problem with your RSS feed. I tried added this site to my reader by the feeds were all stale.

  3. One comment on your note, “認識”. Up to my understanding of that word, I would agree with your comment that it has some ambiguity in it. It is merely a “recognition” of a fact, and there is no reason to conclude that the person using the word believe that the statement following that word is true. For a translation of that word, I might recommend the following translation.


    (We) need to be aware that there are even critizisms that (Japan’s occupation) was invasion.

    please don’t care much about the plural form of the word “critizisms”, the singular form would also work perfect. But I would like to point the the missing word “even” which could be equivelent to the Japanese word ‘も’

  4. Wonderful comment, I was hoping to get exactly this kind of response which helps me sort out the massive collection of apologies and deal with specific translation and wording issues which I can correct as we go along.

  5. the quote by hirohito, near the top:

    1984.9.7 Showa Emperor (Hirohito) “I find it genuinely regrettable that there was such a tragic period during this century.”

    That just is flatly outrageous… that he can simply apologize away his crimes in his quest for global conquest, nevermind the fact that he was never made to stand trial for his war crimes. a complete insult, a slap in the face, to those who fought and died against him worldwide.

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