Japan Sidesteps Claims

THE response of the Japanese government to the increasing number of demands for apology and compensation for its wartime brutalities continues to be ambivalent.

The country's last four prime ministers have all apologized, with varying degrees of directness, to Asian countries. But this year the parliament was deeply divided over a resolution of remorse and instead ended up promising "self-reflection."

The government is creating a way for private individuals to subsidize payments to wartime sex slaves, but officials rule out compensating individuals with the state's money. They say the matter of compensation has been settled in a host of treaties and bilateral agreements that Japan concluded with its former enemies from 1952 to 1977.

In court, responding to the two-dozen suits that war victims have filed seeking compensation, the government's lawyers cite these country-to-country reparations and argue that the claims are too old to be valid.

Says Yoshiki Mine, a Japanese official working on the sex-slave fund, "We know we have to make a sincere apology, but at the same time we are sort of bored with making these statements."

Boredom, however, is not the only thing inhibiting a less-back-handed consideration of those who say modern-day Japanese should pay for the excesses of their predecessors. Some people here, many of them veterans, are opposed to any acknowledgment that the military misbehaved.

Masao Horie, the president of the 230,000-member War Veterans Association, works under a portrait of the late Emperor Hirohito and senior military officers. "During the wars waged by this country," Mr. Horie says, "it never happened that the military committed atrocities."

Many conservatives argue that Japan's turn-of-the-century colonization of Taiwan and Korea was no different, and certainly no more evil, than Western imperialism in the region. Japan's advance into China, the theory goes, was aimed at evicting European imperialists. And in World War II, they say, the country was forced to defend itself from a European and American economic stranglehold. The conservatives have little patience for the Japanese who have conducted research and offered personal testimony to the contrary. "There are many Japanese scholars who have no loyalty to this country," says Toshirou Takahashi, the vice director of an association of military-academy alumni.

One of the members of the association, Masaharu Tsuchiya, patiently reviews his memories of Japan's conquest of the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937. The "Rape of Nanking," as it is known, is seen as one of the worst Japanese atrocities.

Although Chinese estimates of the death toll reach 300,000, independent scholars say the true number of civilians and soldiers killed by the Japanese ranges between 35,000 and 70,000. Mr. Tsuchiya says perhaps 23,000 Chinese soldiers died, but he does not agree that their deaths were anything other than war casualties. He adds that the number of civilians killed without reason was more like 2,100.

Those are Tsuchiya's words. His actions bespeak a different attitude. He and his family host a young Chinese student at their home just outside Tokyo. "I want young Chinese to understand Japan better and become more friendly," he explains.

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