Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has stepped front and center into the argument over history between his country and South Korea. He is famous for the so-called ‘Murayama statement’ in 1995 apologizing for Imperial Japan’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century, he said, "Japan…through its colonial rule and digression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations," he further went on to say "[I] express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and submit my heartfelt apology."
During a recent visit to Seoul, Murayama said all Japanese prime ministers are bound by the apology he made back in 1995. And the current one, Shinzo Abe, had no choice but to do the same. Murayama’s statement got wide play in South Korea and Japan. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
Murayama is the former leader of Japan’s Social Democratic Party, which is currently in opposition. He is on a private visit to South Korea – invited by the country's opposition lawmakers.
I am convinced that my statement has national consensus. Therefore, I can assure you that Mr. Shinzo Abe, as prime minister of Japan, cannot deny my apology.
Murayama called on South Koreans to work to improve relations with Japan that have soured over historical and other issues.
Japan and South Korea must maintain friendly ties. For their mutual benefit, the development of the whole Asian region and world peace.
South Korean president Park Guen-hye reportedly considered meeting with Murayama, but decided not to.
South Korea and Japan seem to be in disagreement over what to call the body of water that lies between them. Japanese call it the Sea of Japan, but to South Koreans it's the East Sea. That dispute is now causing waves in the US. One state wants to publish both names in school textbooks. Here's Japan's NHK.
The delegates voted 81 to 15 to pass the bill. It’s expected to pass the state’s Senate and be signed by the governor. The bill would require new textbooks from July to note that the body of water that separates Japan from the Korean Peninsula is also known as the 'East Sea.' Japan's ambassador to the United States , Kenichiro Sasae has been urging the governor and state lawmakers to oppose the bill. Japanese officials maintain that the 'Sea of Japan' is the only internationally established name for the waters. They note that the US government recognizes it as such.
August 15th marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two. It's also the day when Japanese honor their war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Yasukuni is controversial because it also commemorates fifteen men convicted for war crimes. So, paying respects at the shrine angers many in Japan and abroad, because they view the shrine as a memorial to Japanese militarism. This year, many notables, including members of the Japanese government, stayed away from Yasukuni. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported from the shrine.
Many Japanese observe this rite year after year. They head to Yasukuni shrine which honors the war dead. They stop and pray for those who died for Japan.
Shrine visitor 1:
I'd like to come here as long as I live and pray that my father's soul is in peace.
Shrine visitor 2:
My father died in the war. I come here to feel close to him, even at my age.
This shinto shrine was constructed in the late 1800s to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the process of building Japan. The shrine commemorates two and a half million people. In the 1970s, officials here decided to enshrine wartime military and political leaders. Some have been convicted of war crime by the international military tribunal after World War Two. A number of Japanese lawmakers visit every year on this day. About one hundred came today, including members of the cabinet.
Yoshitaka Shindo, Japanese Official:
I came here today to pay my respects to those who devoted themselves to protect the country and their loved ones.
Chinese and South Korean leaders have criticized their Japanese counterparts for going to the shrine. Four South Korean lawmakers tried to get in to protest in person, but police blocked them to prevent trouble. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said other members of his cabinet were free to visit on the anniversary. He chose not to go. He says he will not disclose whether he will visit the shrine in the future, noting that it could cause diplomatic difficulties.