Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda yesterday made the first apology by a Japanese leader for failing to support war orphans who were left behind in China following World War II, officials said.
Thousands of Japanese children and women were abandoned in China during the military's hasty retreat after defeat in 1945.
Many war orphans were adopted by local families and became culturally Chinese.
"I'm sorry for our late notice" about support, Fukuda was quoted as saying by officials and a group of war orphans after they met with him at his office.
"You had difficulties at the end of the war and continued to have difficulties, which are beyond our imagination," Fukuda told them.
"Since you are Japanese citizens, you have the right to have happy lives. May you live long, together with us," he said.
The meeting was held after parliament last week revised legislation to step up support to war orphans.
Under the new law, the government is to pay ?66,000 (US$600) per month to each repatriated person.
In return, some 2,200 war orphans will drop their class action lawsuits against the government in which they sought compensation for the insufficient support.
"I felt like we were discarded by our home state," Chiyo Ishikawa, a war orphan, told a news conference.
"But after hearing the prime minister's remarks, I feel like I've finally returned home," Ishikawa said.
Some 6,000 war orphans have moved to Japan from China after the two countries' peace and friendship treaty in 1978, which was signed by Fukuda's father, prime minister Takeo Fukuda.
Repatriated orphans have complained that the government has done little to help them adjust to life in Japan, where they often did not speak the language or have needed work skills.
The orphans had contrasted the government's response to its strong backing for Japanese civilians kidnapped by arch-rival North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train regime spies.
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