Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Issues Written Apology To 'Comfort Women' of War

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Wednesday issued Japan's first written apology to women forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II but stopped short of saying Japan would pay compensation.

Hashimoto's apology came on the eve of the 51st anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender and was in the form of a letter addressed to seven former "comfort women" in the Philippines who applied for sums to be provided by a private fund backed by the Tokyo government.

Hashimoto offered words of apology and said the sums from the private Asian Women's Fund were an expression of atonement.

"I think the letter from the prime minister is a heartfelt one," Bunbei Hara, the fund's chairman and former Upper House speaker, told a news conference.

Haruki Wada, a Tokyo University professor and founding member of the fund, commended the letter for acknowledging the involvement of the Japanese military authorities and Japan's "moral responsibility" over the whole affair.

However, Hashimoto's letter ignored demands from Japanese civic groups that the government pay state compensation, clarify that the women were forced into slavery and not hired as prostitutes, and pledge to get to the bottom of one of Japan's blackest war crimes.

An estimated 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, Chinese and Filipinas, but also including some Dutch captured in Indonesia, were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to serve in battlefront brothels for soldiers. Many were teenagers.

It was not until 1993 that the government finally accepted army involvement and issued a vague apology.

But invoking post-World War II peace treaties, it declined to pay straightforward compensation, saying all terms of wartime reparations had been met in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many former "comfort women," especially in South Korea, were enraged at the lack of a formal apology from the country's leaders and formal compensation from the Japanese government.

Many have refused to accept money from the Asian Women's Fund, a private charity set up in lieu of any state compensation.