Japan does about-turn on saying sorry for war: Prime Minister bows to pressure from hardliners who regard any apology as a shameful loss of face

THE Prime Minister of Japan, Morihiro Hosokawa, declined to offer an apology for the Second World War in a key parliamentary speech yesterday, bowing to pressure from hardline nationalists who bitterly oppose attempts to make Japan responsible for its wartime actions.

In a stunning reversal from two weeks ago, when Mr Hosokawa called it 'a war of aggression and a wrong war' at a press conference, his speech yesterday actually paid homage to the 'supreme sacrifices' made by Japanese military personnel during the war which, he said, contributed to Japan's current economic well-being.

Mr Hosokawa did refer to Japan's aggression and colonialism 50 years ago, but in an indirect way which went little further than comments made by Japanese leaders in the past.

Mr Hosokawa's new government, which displaced the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after 38 years of rule, had vowed to come to terms with Japan's war record. The Prime Minister had indicated that he would open a new era in Japan's relations with its neighbours by making a full apology in his first policy speech to parliament. This initiative had been widely, if cautiously, welcomed around Asia, where Japan has been regarded with suspicion and resentment for its failure to apologise for wartime atrocities.

But Mr Hosokawa has been subjected to unremitting pressure from nationalist lobbies at home which regard any apology for the war as a shameful loss of face. Several cabinet ministers distanced themselves from him. Shizuka Kamei, a senior member of the LDP, said: 'It is a blasphemy against history to define Japan's war acts as aggression.' Others feared a candid apology would invite overseas compensation claims. 'We don't want the Prime Minister to say something that might produce repercussions,' said Ryutaro Hashimoto, a former finance minister.

By the time Mr Hosokawa mounted the podium yesterday, his speech had been transformed into an ambiguous statement of regret for the sufferings of the war - a familiar tactic of politicians who want to appear conciliatory to foreigners without offending right-wing opinion inside Japan. But there was no straightforward apology, no direct admission that the war was caused by Japanese aggression and no mention of compensation.

Mr Hosokawa called the war a 'great mistake', and then, in a gesture to influential veterans' groups, he said that it should not be forgotten that Japan's prosperity 'rests upon the supreme sacrifices made during the war (by Japanese troops)'. A number of war veterans had bitterly criticised Mr Hosokawa for supposedly defaming Japan's war dead by calling the conflict a 'war of aggression.'

In his speech yesterday Mr Hosokawa spoke indirectly of Japan's 'actions, including aggression and colonial rule (of Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria)'. For this, he said, Japan would 'reflect deeply' and had 'feelings of apology' - a subtle play on words in the Japanese language which stops short of a direct apology.

The issue was somewhat obscured by an English translation of Mr Hosokawa's speech prepared by the government 'for the convenience of foreign journalists'. The 'feelings of apology' were translated into English simply as apology. The translation for foreign journalists mentioned 'remorse', when the Japanese original in Mr Hosokawa's speech was 'hansei' which in fact means self-reflection and is morally neutral, without the force of the English term remorse.

Some commentators were outraged at the Prime Minister's climb-down. 'This was very unhappy for ordinary Japanese,' said Keiichi Tsuneishi, a professor at Kanagawa University, who is doing research into Japanese war atrocities. But others said that the Prime Minister had at least referred to Japan's aggression and colonisation in East Asia, even if he did so in an indirect way. 'My question is: what concrete action the government will now take after this speech?' said Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor at Chuo University, in Tokyo, who has been campaigning for greater acknowledgement of atrocities against other Asians. 'They should make an apology, offer compensation, and prevent any recurrence.'

Compensation is an issue the government seems unlikely to embrace. Last week it was leaked that a pounds 4bn fund might be set up to compensate Asian victims. But this was strongly attacked by right-wing politicians and the Foreign Ministry. The Deputy Prime Minister, Tsutomu Hata, said Japan had already settled the issue of compensation through bilateral economic treaties with its neighbours.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
healthMeet the volunteer users helping to see if the banned drug can help cure depression and addiction
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
News
Foo Fighters lead man Dave Grohl talks about the band's forthcoming HBO documentary series
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards