Japan sorry for sex slaves in World War II
Japan apologized again on Monday for the suffering of women who served as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II, a day after comments by a cabinet minister drew an angry reaction in South Korea.
Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama was quoted by media over the weekend as saying the term "comfort women," a euphemism for the sex slaves, did not exist during the war and it was good the term had disappeared from school textbooks.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have been strained by a range of feuds, including one over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to a Tokyo shrine for the war dead which Seoul, like China, sees as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
The two sides have been unable to set a date for a regular summit meeting between Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, which they had agreed to hold by the end of June.
Japan's top government spokesman sought to contain any further damage, saying Tokyo was sorry for the sex slaves.
"The comfort women did exist and we are aware that the pride and dignity of many women were hurt," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.
"We have repeatedly expressed our apology and remorse, and there is no change to that."
South Korean politicians and media blasted Nakayama, who caused a stir last November by praising history textbooks that played down what he termed "excessive descriptions" of Japanese wartime wrongdoing.
"We only feel regret and rage at these senseless words that deny past aggression coming from the highest official responsible for Japan's education with no trace of remorse," Jun Byung-hun, a spokesman for South Korea's ruling Uri Party, said on Sunday.
In addition to a territorial row over two tiny islands, many South Koreans feel Japan has not squarely faced its wartime past, including the brutal 1910-1945 rule of the Korean peninsula.
Historians estimate that as many as 200,000 women, mostly Korean, were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
But the term "comfort women" is set to disappear from many government-approved history textbooks for junior high schools from next year, Japanese media have reported.
In a bid to narrow the gap over history, the two governments launched a joint study four years ago, but a report on its results issued on Friday showed the two sides were sharply at odds on many subjects, including the sex slaves issue.