Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Gist of the Statement

Japan’s Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura last week expressed his “heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse" over the damage the Japanese army caused in the Philippines during World War II, at the annual commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) on Mt. Samat in Pilar town in Bataan province.

This is the Filipino national holiday that remembers the beginning of the Bataan Death March, April 9, 1941 and the fall of the Philippines. The solemn ceremony was also attended by President Arroyo, US Ambassador Kristie Anne Kenney, local government officials and war veterans.

His exact words were:
As I stand before this venerable shrine on Mount Samat, let me first of all reiterate my greatest tribute to all those who fought and fell, and my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the damages caused by the Japanese military in the Philippines during World War II, including the tragic Bataan death march. Let me also state that after the war, Japan was reborn as a peace-loving nation, and that post-war Japan has firmly resolved to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world, without allowing the terrible lessons of the war to erode.
Nice, but they were the very same as the year before.

And that was a mere modification of what was said in 2007 by his predecessor, Ryuichiro Yamazaki: who very very carefully read them as you can see from this video.
At the outset, allow me to express again my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in the Philippines during World War II. Let me also reiterate the Japanese government's determination not to allow the lessons of that terrible war to erode, and, our determination to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world without ever waging a war.
The previous year, Ambassador Yamazaki was invited for the first time to the commemoration of the Battle of Manila. There he said,
The terror that each Filipino man, woman, and child must have experienced in Manila 61 years ago is beyond the imagination of any sane human being. With this historical fact in mind, I would like to express my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the tragic fate of Manila.
Later that year, during the commemorative program of the Leyte Gulf Landings' 62nd anniversary in Palo, Yamazaki said, "I would like to reiterate my heartfelt apology and deep sense of remorse and reflection over the tragic fate of all those who fought to defend this country against Japanese military aggression and the atrocities committed by (its army)."

In 2000, as spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Yamazaki wrote a letter to the New York Times: 
The fact is that Japan has repeatedly expressed its remorse and stated its apology for wartime actions with the utmost clarity. A notable example is then Prime Minister's official statement in August 1995, based upon a Cabinet decision. In the statement, Mr. Murayama said that Japan 'through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations,' and he expressed his 'feelings of deep remorse' and stated his 'heartfelt apology.' As recently as 1998, then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi reiterated gist of this statement to Chinese President Jiang Zeming when he paid a state visit to Japan.
In each "apology" there is the careful repetition of the 1995 Murayama apology that Amb. Yamazaki correctly points out is the only one Cabinet approved, which makes it the only official government apology. And in each apology, there is a slight variation in the predicate. Thus, Japan’s one "comprehensive apology" is fungible.

I will let my readers draw their own conclusions from all this.


  1. Having worked on translations of a similar nature for both MOFA and the Cabinet Office over the years, I can say that bureaucrats' paralyzing fear of departing from established translations plays a big role in keeping those English terms consistent each and every time it shows up. (The Japanese too, for that matter. A minister isn't going to write any statement from scratch--if s/he writes anything in person--but will rely on the bland output, vetted several dozen times by different ranks of functionary, that sounds just like the editions published in each of the last 10 or 15 years.)

    Makes the job easy, anyway, assuming the translator has a good memory or a database of accepted glosses ready at hand.

  2. What's this "I" stuff? Does that "I" represent the nation of Japan? Not sure if there is "utmost clarity" in the English version.

  3. The "I" stuff is what makes these apologies problematic: they are personal and not really representative of a national, formal, official apology. It is a way to satisfy Japan's right that the Japanese state is not really having any contrition about the war. It is a slight of hand that Tokyo hopes "others" will not notice nor undertstand


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