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
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story