The once exceptional practice of state apology would seem to have acquired another convert. On December 18, 2015, the Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kashida, offered a formal apology to his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, for the so-called “comfort women” who had been forced to work in Japanese brothels during the wartime occupation of the Korean peninsula. Later on that same day, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, reiterated the apology in a telephone call to the South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Taken at face value, this latest apology (buttressed by an $8.3 million compensation package) marks a return to the spirit of the mid-1990s when Japan, after a long period of equivocation and denial, began to atone in earnest for its wartime actions (Lind 2009: 135). Despite his own conservative inclinations, Prime Minister Abe looks to have finally taken a conscious stand against the historical revisionism that has grown like a cancer within Japan during the early years of the 21st century, telling reporters that this marks a new beginning in relations between Japan and South Korea. Like so many scenes of atonement before it, however, this latest act of contrition raises thorny questions, not just about the merit of apology as a political institution, but about the value of trying to come (ever more perfectly) to terms with the past.
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Poli 3 - DeAnza