How Japan has apologized to Korea

Davey Meelker

On our journey throughout Asia we encountered many reminders of Japanese atrocities during the pacific war. In Indonesia we saw the abandoned camps where the Dutch people were imprisoned and tortured. In the Philippines locals told us terrible stories about many inhabitants of Manila being killed one by one with Japanese swords. In China we saw the Nanjing massacre memorial, commemorating the the massacre of which Japan still denies that it happened. And in South Korea women, who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese, are still demonstrating in front of the Japanese embassy every Wednesday. Japan never recognised those sex slaves and recently they still stressed in parliament that those Koreans were willing prostitutes. Off course, we were exited to visit this ‘evil’ Japan.

The search through the Japanese war history, unavoidably brought us to Nagasaki. There it is impossible not to come in touch with its sad past. On August 9th 1945 the atomic exploded 500 meters above the city killing 75.000 people and leaving the same amount of people horribly injured. Today the city is a fierce anti atomic bomb advocate and has an informative museum that contributes to their cause. This museum covers the brutalities of the bomb without blaming America or portraying themselves as the great victim of the war. Not what we expected after hearing all those stories about Japan.

The real surprise had yet to come. Outside we ran into a small monument apologizing to the Koreans for the many atrocities the Japanese committed during their 35 years reign on the Korean peninsula. Yes, apologizing. The monument was dedicated to the 10.000 Korean victims of the nuclear bomb who lived in Nagasaki when the bomb fell and it has only the South-Korean flag while Japan colonised the whole of Korea. Nevertheless, it literally stated: “Here we apologize to Korea and the Koreans for the immeasurable suffering that we inflicted upon them during those tragic years; threatening them with the sword and gun, colonizing and annexing their peninsula, bringing them against their will and abusing them in slavery and finally for the catastrophic way they had to die under the atomic bomb.” We were astonished. Is this the Japan that is known for denying the atrocities they committed?

Of course, this monument fits the city’s anti nuclear bomb campaign, but the memorial recognized rightfully the immeasurable suffering of the Koreans. My country, the Netherlands, never apologized for their brutal past (slavery, the many civil servants participating with the nazi’s during the Second World War and the brutalities after the fall of the enclave in Srebrenica). They only stressed remorse (if they apologize they are liable for compensation) and just erected a monument commemorating slavery in 2002. It took hundreds of years to finally construct a monument in the Netherlands commemorating slavery, while the monument in Nagasaki was built 34 years after the recapitulation of Japan.

We were positively surprised about Nagasaki’s dealing with the past. Of course, the atrocities committed by the Japanese were so cruel that no memorial can make up with it. Still, maybe all the stories about Japan still not coping with their brutal past were anti Japanese propaganda from other Asian countries? Well, our experiences while visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo brought us right back to reality. There we saw the Japanese official story. To be continued…

The Japanese apology to Korea at the monument in Nagasaki

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