The Horrific Consequences of “Apology Diplomacy” By Japanese Government]

To this day, many Japanese nationals on business assignment at Japanese corporations choose to live in Fort Lee, New Jersey because of its easy accessibility to Manhattan, lying just across the George Washington Bridge. Surely there are many expatriate Japanese who used to live in Fort Lee as children and have since returned to Japan. The origin of its name is General Charles Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War. George Washington and General Lee are said to have set up a camp here in order to defend New York City and were marching down Fort Lee’s Main Street. In the early 20th century, it is also known as the home of major movie studios, rendering it a bustling place like Hollywood (however, most of them left Fort Lee for Hollywood in the late 1930s). In addition, Fort Lee was originally largely populated by Italian immigrants, and it was rumored that the area was safe because of the mafia presence.
In the late 1970s, Japanese started settling in Fort Lee and the surrounding areas, such as Palisades Park and Leonia. Koreans began following Japanese in the 1980s, and in big numbers at that. This influx was the result of several family-run Korean conglomerates, which were enjoying remarkable growth at the time, opening offices in Fort Lee. It is also due to the U. S. government expanding its quota of green cards for Koreans who fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War. I used to live in Palisades Park for 3 years from 1982–1985, and I believe that there were more Japanese than Koreans at that time. Even then, however, there were so many children of Asian descent that, as a consequence of this large Asian population, I recall hearing stories of local American parents complaining to the schools that their own children were not speaking English correctly. I am surprised to learn that the populations of Fort Lee, Leonia, and Palisades Park are now approximately 35%, 20%, and 65% Korean, respectively. Americans are sometimes exceptionally tolerant and generous, but even so, it’s hard to believe they have let the situation come this far. Or, I could surmise that Americans have gradually fled to escape from the expansion of Korean immigrants. I wonder what will happen if it continues to grow like this.  We encounter signs written in Hangul (the Korean alphabet) all over the area, giving some illusion as if we were in Korea. No wonder that the area has become a hotbed of Korean anti-Japanese activity. In fact, the first comfort women memorial in the world was erected at the entrance to the Palisades Park Library in October 2010. Since then, nine more memorials and statues have been built in the United States.
Ironically, “Lee” is a common way to romanize a Korean surname, and it is one of the five most common Chinese and Korean surnames. In Korea, Lee is very popular, second only to Kim, marking about 15% of the population. Two well-known Lees that quickly come to my mind are Syngman Rhee (Lee), the first president of South Korea who snatched Takeshima islets by one-sidedly drawing the Syngman Rhee Line, and Myung-bak Lee, a former Korean president who rubbed the Japanese emotion by visiting Takeshima in person and by stating that the Emperor of Japan “must himself apologize if he would like to set his foot in Korea.” It seems that the surname Lee is a foreboding one for Japan.
On December 14 of last year, the Fort Lee City Council unanimously voted to erect a comfort women memorial. Yoko Nagato of Himawari Japan contributed an “advocacy advertisement” to Shukan NY Seikatsu, writing that the people who advanced the plans were a group of Korean-American high school students from Fort Lee High School and that they had been inspired by watching “Spirits’ Homecoming,” an anti-Japan propaganda film about comfort women. She also concluded that several anti-Japan organizations were behind the scenes using these high school students.
It is pathetic that all of the members of the City Council have surrendered to the anti-Japan movement, but politically this makes sense because the majority of the electorate is of Korean ancestry. No matter how much we Japanese assert that this anti-Japan movement is based on a fake historical story and that it will encourage the bullying of and bias against Japanese children, it is almost impossible to resolve unless the Japanese government resolutely asserts accurate historical awareness and flatly rejects the anti-Japan movement’s slander and defamation using the comfort women issue. According to Nagato, Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich stated, “I think the blame lies upon Japan because the Japanese government paid compensations to South Korea. Why would you have to do it unless you knew you were wrong?” Yes, he’s got it right!  The repeated “apology diplomacy” coupled with the lack of refutation carried out to date by the Japanese government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs has aggravated the comfort women issue to this extent and has also caused Japanese children living abroad to be the target of bullying.
When we Japanese first arrived in the United States taking a new assignment, weren’t we told repeatedly by friends or superiors, “In America, you shouldn’t be quick to apologize. Do not promptly say, ‘I’m sorry,’ even if you’re involved in a traffic accident. An admission of guilt could be subject to some payment of huge monetary compensation?” This is the basic preparatory knowledge required for overseas living not only in the United States but also in other countries. Since this is a kind of common knowledge in everyday life, then it is even more relevant to foreign relations at the frontline of conflicting national interests. It would be unthinkable for Japanese diplomats who have spent many years living overseas in various countries to claim they are unaware of this mindset. Or have the elite bureaucrats been unable to experience this, having lived in a privileged world with no reality?
To this day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not made any clear-cut public explanation regarding the truth and cause of the comfort women issue, nor has it contested the slanderous accusations made by various parties. Upon searching for “comfort women issue” on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs homepage, one only finds excuses such as an expression of “sincere apologies and remorse to all those women known as comfort women who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds,” and that we have “extended maximum cooperation to the Asian Women’s Fund, which implemented ‘medical and welfare support projects’ and provided ‘atonement money,’ to offer realistic relief to former comfort women.” No matter where one looks on the site, there is no mention whatsoever of a resolute rebuttal of the issue indicating that the problem originated from lies made by a genius conman, Seiji Yoshida, that were proliferated for more than twenty years by the Asahi Shimbun, and that the fake stories that comfort women were sexually assaulted and that there were 200,000 Korean women (and another 200,000 of Chinese women!) in sexual slavery have no basis in reality and have in fact slandered the nation of Japan and its citizens. Based on this, the Japanese government is essentially admitting that it is guilty of a heinous crime—and as previously mentioned, the Fort Lee mayor has stated as such. This false accusation will never be cleared. Japanese children have no recourse when they are bullied. Is the Japanese government incapable of understanding how much our children are hurt and how horrific it is that they have lost their pride and dignity in being Japanese?
Under the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of South Korea, Japan paid $800 million in total under the condition that Korea “renounces all rights to request reparation and compensation from Japan.” This figure was huge as it was equivalent to 2.3 times the national budget. And, Japan had already renounced all infrastructure-related facilities such as bridges, roads, dams, power plants, etc. free of charge that were built during its annexation of Korea. Korea’s miraculous economic recovery could not have been achieved without this unprecedented support from Japan. In 1995, the comfort women issue resulted in a contribution to the so-called Asian Women’s Fund with approximately 1.1 billion yen (approximately 600 million yen donated by Japanese citizens, plus approximately 500 million yen in subsidies from the government), paying two million yen to each comfort woman. A considerate letter of apology from former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi accompanied the payment. And in recent memory, there was another stunning agreement between Japan and South Korea in December 2015 where another payment of one billion yen was made under the “absolute final and irreversible” conditions. At this time as well, Prime Minister Abe expressed his “sincere apologies and remorse.”
Even so, comfort women statues and memorials have continued to be built one after another worldwide. How long will this last? It’s like repeatedly 「泥棒に追銭」 (a Japanese proverb that translates to “throwing good money after bad”). And it goes without saying that the “good money” is the hard-earned taxpayers’ money. When will the Japanese government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs learn their lesson? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is complaining that South Korea is always moving the goalposts, but it is Japan that has attached wheels to the posts so they can be moved easily. Japan must wake up to the reality of the world by now.
The unveiling ceremony for the Fort Lee comfort women memorial was held on May 23. All I want now is that the Japanese government demonstrate resolute attitude to the anti-Japan movement that has disparaged Japan to the point of bending the truth. Please don’t cause senseless suffering to Japanese people and the children living in New York area anymore. Before considering “friendship” or “common ground,” I would like Japan to resolutely assert its “stance” and the “truth of the comfort women story.” If such a simple task is impossible to take, please don’t do anything for us. Please also take out all references to comfort women from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ homepage.  It is simply because of that that the battle over history is crucial and endless, and it does nothing to seek compromise for “common ground” or otherwise.

Masaki Shirota (Music Producer)


The Comfort Women Memorial opening ceremony was held with Mayor Mark Sokolich on May 23, 2018. Photo by Ryoichi Miura, Shukan NY Seikatsu. ©New York Seikatsu Press, Inc.