Japan recently apologized to South Korea for its colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, seeking, an Associated Press report said, “to strengthen ties between the two countries ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula.”
During Japan’s occupation of Korea, many Koreans were forced to fight as frontline soldiers for Japan’s Imperial Army, work in slave-labor conditions or serve as prostitutes in brothels operated by the Japanese military. Sound familiar?
Substitute “Taiwan” for “Korea” in the news reports, and the picture becomes clear. Japan also owes an apology to Taiwan for drafting young Taiwanese men to fight as frontline soldiers for Japanese military campaigns and for forcing thousands of Taiwanese women, many of them Aboriginal girls, to serve as “comfort women” in Japanese military brothels. Just as many older Koreans still remember atrocities committed by Japan, many older Taiwanese also remember.
Although the issues do not remain as sensitive here in Taiwan all these decades later, the mental and psychological toll of the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan cannot merely be airbrushed away by Japanese spin doctors.
“For the enormous damage and suffering caused by this colonization, I would like to express, once again, our deep remorse and sincerely apologize,” Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the Korean people earlier this month.
His statement was intended specifically for the ears of South Korean people, in contrast to earlier apologies by Japan for wartime actions made broadly to the Japan’s Asian neighbors, including Taiwan.
Kan also said Japan plans to return some “stolen” Korean cultural artifacts, including historical documents that it “acquired” while ruling the Korean Peninsula.
History is a cruel reminder of what some nations do to other nations, and while many South Koreans were glad to hear of Kan’s remarks, many older people in Korea told reporters covering the story that Tokyo’s most recent apology was insufficient, saying it should be backed up by specific measures, such as reparations for victims, prosecution of wrongdoers and a record of the Japanese military’s history of sexual slavery in Japanese textbooks.
After Kan’s remarks were publicized, a small group of activists protested in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, urging Japan to offer a more sincere apology and return all Korean cultural artifacts in its possession.
One activist said: “We no longer welcome apologies of words without action.”
Kan’s apology comes ahead of the 100-year anniversary of Tokyo’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula on Aug. 29. The 100-year anniversary of Tokyo’s forced annexation of Taiwan occurred in 1995.
Will Japan also agree to return some of Taiwan’s cultural artifacts that were also transported to Japanese museums during the colonial days and also apologize in a humble and heartfelt manner for forcing young Taiwanese women into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers during the war years, some as young as 16 and 17?
Certainly, war is terrible and ugly, and unspeakable acts often occur, but where are the apologies from Japan. Germany, after World War II, apologized to the world, and it has been in apology mode ever since. Has Japan ever really apologized for the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, for the atrocities committed all over Asia during what it calls the Pacific War, for the unspeakable horrors that the Taiwanese, Dutch and Korean comfort women had to live through?
Will Taiwan ever get a similar apology from Japan? Only history knows, and for now, history’s not talking.
Dan Bloom is a US writer based in Taiwan.
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