An official government report issued yesterday gave details of how the women were forced into prostitution, but left open the issue of compensation for the surviving women, most of whom are in their seventies or older. The women, referred to as 'comfort women', were abducted from Korea and other Asian countries to be brought to frontline brothels, and often serviced a dozen or more Japanese soldiers a day.
Yesterday's admission came as Japanese leaders are facing up to the need for a thorough reappraisal of Japan's wartime history and the country's subsequent attempts to wash its hands of responsibility for atrocities and widespread barbaric treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. On Tuesday Tsutomu Hata, a former finance minister who is expected to be made deputy prime minister in the new government, said Japan should stop playing with words and issue a clear apology for the war.
The 'comfort women' issue has dogged relations between Tokyo and Seoul, with the Korean side repeatedly demanding that the Japanese government should own up to the fact that the wartime prostitution was controlled by the Japanese military, and that the young women did not go of their own free will. The majority came from Korea, a Japanese colony from 1910 until the end of the war in 1945. In addition, 'comfort women' also came from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Japan itself.
A Japanese government report last year said there was no evidence the women had been coerced. But yesterday Yohei Kono, the chief cabinet secretary, said 'the government of Japan would like to take this opportunity to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those . . . who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as 'comfort women'.'
Yesterday's report admits the military organised the system to service its soldiers and prevent them from getting venereal disease from uncontrolled prostitution on the Asian continent. It said the first comfort station was set up in Shanghai in 1932, and the practice continued until Japan's final defeat in 1945.
Mr Kono said the government would 'consider seriously' how it could express its remorse - implying that the question of compensation to the women would have to be decided by the next government, due to be formed today. He added that Japan was determined 'never to repeat the same mistake, by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history'.
Japanese history textbooks gloss over the issue of wartime atrocities, and many Japanese students have little or no knowledge of what their country did during the war.
SEOUL - Japan's belated admission that its military government forced Asian women to serve as prostitutes for its army during the Second World War was applauded in South Korea, Reuter reports.
'We appreciate the fact that . . . the Japanese government now acknowledges that coercion was involved,' a Foreign Ministry statement said. 'We also appreciate the fact that the Japanese government offers an apology to the victims (and) voices a sense of self- reproach.' A ministry spokesman said the issue would be dropped from the agenda at future diplomatic meetings.