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Japan’s emperor hopes to visit Korea, willing to apologize: report

TOKYO (Yonhap News) ― Japanese Emperor Akihito has expressed his wish to visit South Korea and said he could apologize for Japan’s colonial rule if needed, a Japanese weekly reported, amid heightened diplomatic tension between the two nations.

During a Sept. 4 issue briefing with Koji Tsuruoka, the deputy vice-minister for foreign policy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Akihito said he and Empress Michiko hope to visit South Korea “some day,” the Japanese women’s magazine published Wednesday reported.

The magazine also quoted the 79-year-old emperor as saying that he hopes that “Japan and Korea maintain good relations in the coming days.”

Akihito had pushed to visit Korea in 1986 when he was Crown Prince, but dropped the plan due to the then Crown Princess’ health problems.

It is the first time Akihito has expressed his willingness to visit Korea after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on the Japanese emperor to apologize for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule if he wishes to visit Korea.

Lee’s demand, which came shortly after his unprecedented trip to the southeastern islets of Dokdo on Aug. 10, has triggered a diplomatic tit-for-tat feud between the two nations.

Citing a Japanese lawmaker, the magazine also said Akihito had said he “wouldn’t hesitate to make an apology during his visit to Korea if that’s needed for friendly relations between the two nations.”

Despite being strictly constrained by his constitutional position, he issued several wide-ranging statements of remorse to Asian countries in the 1990s, for their suffering under Japanese occupation.

In 2001, Akihito said he feels kinship with Korea, noting that the grandmother of his eighth-century imperial ancestor, Kammu, was from a Korean kingdom.

He also offered prayers and flowers at a Korean peace memorial during his visit in June 2005 to the U.S. territory of Saipan, the site of a battle in World War II.

Tokyo issued a formal apology in 1993, but has failed to convince South Korea it is truly contrite about its wartime record, including its military’s forceful recruitment of sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women.”

Japan has frequently laid claims to South Korea’s rocky outcroppings of Dokdo in the East Sea, stoking enmity in South Korea against its former colonial ruler.

South Korea views Tokyo’s claims to Dokdo as a sign that Japan has not fully repented for its imperialist past and denies Korea’s independence because the country reclaimed sovereignty over all of its territory, including Dokdo, after the colonial rule ended.