“Indescribable wrongdoings.” That’s how former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama referred to the atrocities that Japan’s military had committed against more than 200,000 young women from Korea and other countries during World War II.
By forcing the women to serve as “comfort women,” or sex slaves for its troops, “Japan robbed them of their dignity,” said Murayama, who as prime minister issued in 1995 the “Murayama Statement” to acknowledge Japan’s wartime aggression and apologize for the atrocities it had committed.
The former Japanese leader visited Seoul earlier this week to meet some of the surviving Korean victims of sex slavery. In a speech before Korean lawmakers, Murayama said he became speechless and could not raise his head when he met three aged women whose lives had been destroyed by the Japanese military.
Murayama was the first among incumbent and former Japanese prime ministers to meet Korean sex slaves. In an unequivocal voice, he urged the Tokyo government to address the long-running grievances of these women as early as possible as they did not have much time left to live.
Lamenting the never-ending series of reckless remarks that Japanese leaders continue to make on Japan’s past wrongdoings, Murayama also stressed that Japan must squarely face up to its history.
His remarks were clearly directed at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is internationally criticized for his revisionist take on Japan’s wartime actions.
Abe refuses to view Japan’s invasion and occupation of Korea, Manchuria, China and other Asian countries as “aggression,” asserting that “the definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community.”
In this regard, he suggested he might issue his own apology differing from Murayama’s, which acknowledges Japan’s colonial rule and aggression.
But Murayama said that Abe would honor the 1995 statement as he had once stated at the Japanese parliament that he would inherit it. He warned that denial of the statement would cost any member of the cabinet their post.
Abe should honor the Murayama Statement, together with a similar statement issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, as they constitute the foundation for building future-oriented relations between Korea and Japan.
On top of that, he should make sure that his cabinet members and other high-ranking officials do not make nonsensical remarks that deviate from the two official apologies. Their absurd comments not only nullify numerous previous apologies their predecessors made, but also fuel anger among Koreans.
During his visit to Seoul, Murayama has shown how a political leader should behave and speak. He had the humility to admit Japan’s wrongdoings and the courage to urge Japanese leaders to apologize. Japanese politicians should emulate the former prime minister.
Murayama said a majority of Japanese were well aware of Japan’s wartime wrongdoings, hoping that Koreans could understand it. We hope he is right. But their voices are seldom heard. In this regard, his message should resound far and wide in Japan, except his suggestion that Korea and Japan share resources around Dokdo. The islets are an inalienable part of Korea’s territory.