Japanese Emperor Honors Korean War Dead in Saipan
Thursday, June 30, 2005 Posted: 05:53 AM JST
During a visit to Saipan, Japanese Emperor Akihito paid his respects Tuesday to the Koreans killed here. The tiny Pacific island was the scene of a major World War II battle. It is reportedly the first time that a Japanese emperor pays respects at a monument solely dedicated to Korean war dead, and the gesture was generally received well by media in China and Korea. The two countries have been protesting against a Japanese textbook that ignores Japanese atrocities during WWII and visits of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Yasukuni Shine. It is also the first trip by a Japanese emperor to a World War II battlefield outside Japan.
The Emperor and Empress visited several memorials honoring Japanese, Koreans Americans and local islanders. A senior palace official told assembled reporters that the visit to the Korean memorial had been approved days before the Emperor left Japan. It was, however, kept secret because of concerns it might be "compromised."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Tuesday said he saw the emperor's visit to Saipan as a positive sign: "We have noticed the reports. We believe that these arrangements should be based on a correct view on and a responsible attitude towards the history issue." The spokesman reiterated, however, the importance of Japan respecting its past. "The Japanese side should take the feelings of the people in Asian countries, including China, with all seriousness, properly handle the relevant issues and honor its commitment to remorse on and respect for history." The comments were widely reported by Chinese news sources.
The Japan Times reports that not all Koreans on Saipan, however, felt the Emperor's decision to go to the memorial was enough: "Japan has never really apologized," said Ryan Kim, a local tour guide. "There is more for Japan's Emperor to do than go on tours like this."
Early in the day the Emperor and Empress offered prayers at Banzai Cliff. Here Japanese plunged to their deaths in large numbers to prevent capture by American troops. Capture was not only considered as extremely shameful, but almost all Japanese expected to be killed or severely mistreated by the Americans, which had been portrayed by Japan's propaganda as "barbarians" who raped women and ate babies.
Saipan was considered vital to Japan's homeland defense during the World War II. Fierce fighting commenced on June 15 and only ended on July 9, 1944. More than 40,000 Japanese soldiers, some 10,000 Japanese civilians and about 5,000 US soldiers were killed in the battle.
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