Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tokyo gov't punishes 35 teachers over anthem

The Tokyo metropolitan board of education on Friday punished 35 public school teachers for refusing to stand up and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem in front of the "Hinomaru" flag during graduation ceremonies this month, board officials said.

Of the 35, three were suspended from school for one, three and six months, respectively, and 12 others received pay cuts, while the remaining 20 faced admonitions, the officials said. The move has brought the total number of teachers in Tokyo reprimanded over the Kimigayo and Hinomaru issue to 381 since the education board in 2003 notified teachers at public schools that they could face punishment if they refuse to give respect to the flag and the anthem during school ceremonies.

Blackman says 'great shame' Hawker suspect got away from police

The father of slain British hostess Lucie Blackman said Friday that it was a "great shame" that the key suspect in the Lindsay Hawker murder case had managed to get away from police when they first visited his home.

Tim Blackman said that there were comparisons between this apparent police blunder and elements of the investigation into his own daughter's death.

In that case, police initially failed to search the suspect's home, despite the fact that he was dirty, anxious, and detectives could glimpse pieces of concrete and a sack of bulky objects when they questioned him on the doorstep. At the time, Joji Obara, who is now accused of raping and fatally drugging Lucie Blackman, claimed that he was "retiling his bathroom." Prosecutors claimed the sack contained Blackman's body parts. Obara denies the charges.

Blackman said, "We are all very upset. Not just for Lindsay, but for Lucie. It brings it all back hugely. I just know how devastated these people are and what a terrible problem it is going to be for them. It's just a great shame that the guy (suspect in the Hawker case) got out the back door."

The body of English teacher Lindsay Hawker, 22, was found in a bathtub full of sand on the balcony of an apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, on Monday.

Police said on Wednesday that Hawker may have suffocated. Her body was bruised and tied with synthetic-resin cord often used in gardening.

Detectives are hunting Tatsuya Ichihashi, 28, who fled barefoot from the apartment when several police officers - as many as nine according to some reports — called at the condo on Monday.

According to British reports, officers asked Ichihashi for his name but then gave him time to pick up a bag, which he later dropped, before he managed to flee from the apartment via a fire escape.

Japanese police have defended their actions saying that, at that time, they had not seen the body and so were not sure exactly what had happened.

However, this has not stopped some British newspapers from describing the operation as "bungling" and drawing comparisons with the Lucie Blackman case.

Blackman, who worked in a Tokyo hostess bar, went missing on July 1, 2000. Seven months later, her dismembered remains were found in a beachside cave in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture. Her severed head had been encased in concrete.

But police had in fact visited Obara's home on the evening of July 6, 2000, after neighbors complained about noise. Obara, who appeared anxious and dirty, did not allow the officers inside and they were told by their superiors to leave the address.

There was also concern over the fact that the cave where Blackman's remains were found had been searched by police in October 2000, but nothing had been found.

Tim Blackman has been critical of his daughter's investigation in the past, and has said that his very open relationship with the media and frank comments often conflicted with advice from the Foreign Office and British police. He said he did not want to be seen to be criticizing the handling of the Hawker case and hoped the suspect would be apprehended quickly.

Blackman said, "I'm sure that the profile of Lucie's case will make sure, or underpin, the police's enthusiasm to make as much progress as they can in Lindsay's case.

"It's a different case. The police know they are investigating a murder whereas, when Lucie went missing, they didn't even accept that a crime had been committed because she had not arrived home. The fact that Lindsay left information about where she was, made a huge difference."

Blackman said that he had not received any requests for help from Hawker's father, William, but would be willing to assist if needed.

In the meantime, Hawker's family need to keep Lindsay in the public eye until Ichihashi is apprehended, Blackman suggested.

"This man needs to be found and I think that any appeals that he (William Hawker) can make personally, or ways he can keep Lindsay's picture on the front of the newspapers will be useful," he said.

"Someone must be renting an apartment to him, or giving him some casual job. Someone is in touch with him although they don't know it and everyone needs to look carefully at the people around them."

Following his daughter's death, Blackman established a trust which advises young people on personal safety, particularly when traveling overseas.

"Lucie's death went a long way to making people think very carefully, or prepare carefully before traveling but, for want of a better expression, "shit happens." Unfortunately, Lindsay has been the subject of that and it's a terrible thing."

Hawker, who comes from the city of Coventry in central England, had been working as a teacher at the Nova Co school in Koiwa, east of Tokyo, since October.

Ichihashi first got in touch with Hawker on March 21 on the street in front of JR Nishi-Funabashi Station. Ichihashi, who is still missing and is on a nationwide wanted list on suspicion of abandoning her body, asked Hawker to teach him English. He then followed her home and managed to persuade Hawker to give him an English lesson, the first one taking place on Sunday.

Her father, William, and boyfriend, Ryan Garside, traveled to Japan this week and made an emotional TV appeal. Hawker's body has been released to the family which is due to return to Britain.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cabinet OKs bill to instill patriotism in classroom

The cabinet on Friday approved a bill to revise the School Education Law featuring a provision aimed at instilling patriotism in the classroom and another bill designed to reinforce the power of the education minister in management of schools.

Placing top priority on education reform in the current Diet session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to enact the two bills along with another, approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, to strip teachers of life tenure and require them instead to renew their licenses every 10 years.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yasukuni OK'd enshrining Class-A war criminals in 1969

Yasukuni Shrine gave a green light in 1969 to the idea of its enshrining Japanese Class-A war criminals from World War II, nine years before it actually did so, and the government was more closely involved in discussions regarding whom the shrine should honor than currently believed, a book released by the National Diet Library Wednesday suggests. The book with the English title "A New Compilation of Materials on the Yasukuni Shrine Problems" contains 808 items, including nearly 180 documents that the Shinto shrine in Tokyo disclosed on Wednesday for the first time.

Among the 808 documents is a group of lists dated Jan 31, 1969, presented at a meeting of officials from the shrine and the then Health and Welfare Ministry. The lists name people who could potentially be enshrined at Yasukuni and indicate that the shrine and the ministry shared the view that "Class-A" war criminals "able to be honored." The ministry and the shrine also agreed to refrain from making public the idea of Yasukuni honoring such war criminals, apparently due to political sensitivity surrounding the separation of state and religion.

The issues of government involvement in Yasukuni's honoring of war criminals and Japanese leaders' visits to the shrine have been a source of diplomatic disputes mainly with other Asian countries such as China and South Korea.

British media give extensive coverage to teacher's death

The British media covered the death of English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker prominently Wednesday, with some reports claiming she had recently been followed home by a Japanese man and was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the country.

According to The Sun, a popular tabloid, one of Lindsay's friends revealed that she was planning to come home next month because she found Japanese men "creepy."

Toby Wheeler, 30, who worked with Lindsay in Tokyo, said, "She found Japanese men weird. Some made inappropriate gestures and sexual remarks."

Several newspapers contained extracts of messages Hawker, who was 22, had sent to her family since she arrived in Japan last October. They were posted on a social networking site.

On March 20, she wrote, "Don't worry about the guy who chased me home, it's just crazy Japan."

Further messages from her family show their growing frustration as they tried in vain to contact her.

In an email just before her body was found, her friend Ryan Garside e-mailed, "Get in touch you fool! Why do you never email?"

Lindsay had recently graduated from Leeds University in northern England and had been working in Japan since October last year.

The Daily Mail tabloid said colleagues said Hawker had been dating Tatsuya Ichihashi, 28, a Japanese man wanted on suspicion of abandoning the woman's body.

But the newspaper reports this may well have been because her contract with Nova Co, where she was an English teacher, prohibited teachers from taking private lessons.

Her family said they had no knowledge of Ichihashi and denied any relationship. Japanese police also denied they were dating.

According to The Times, Hawker had not known Ichihashi for a long time. The Japanese police said they got to know each other only several days before her body was found.

Hawker's case has unhappy echoes of the death of another British woman, Tokyo club hostess Lucie Blackman, 21, whose dismembered body was found encased in concrete in a cave in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2000.

The Tokyo District Court plans to hand down a ruling in April on Joji Obara, who has denied charges of raping and fatally drugging Blackman.

According to The Sun, her father Tim Blackman, 52, said, "Lindsay's death has upset me greatly. Elements are frighteningly similar."

Slain British woman was being stalked by suspect; father holds news conference

A 22-year-old British woman found dead Monday in a condominium in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, had been stalked by the man who is the primary suspect in her death, police said Wednesday. Lindsay Ann Hawker was stalked by Tatsuya Ichihashi, a 28-year-old Japanese who has gone missing and is wanted on suspicion of abandoning her body. He had visited her home and given her a note in which his name and phone number were written, according to the police.

Police are searching for the Ichihashi on suspicion that he had a hand in the death of Hawker, who worked as an English teacher for Nova Co.

In Tokyo, Hawker's father, William, was enraged and tearfully vowed to see justice is served in connection with the death of his daughter, who finished her university last year and came to Japan in October.

"My daughter did not come here to be murdered. She came here to help people. She came here to teach," he said in a shaking voice, tears rolling down from his eyes. "I will not rest until the man who killed my daughter is caught."

Hawker explained tearfully how he had believed that Japan was a safe place and that Lindsay, who was teaching English at a language school, was "tricked" into going to the suspect's condominium where her body was found Monday "under the pretext of giving an English lesson."

"My daughter was a lovely girl. She would help anybody and it was because she would help anybody she is where she is now," he added.

"I believe this man was a loner...some sort of social misfit who targeted my daughter and he must be caught," Hawker said, and called for the public for any information related to the case.

Hawker also said he believed there was not "any sort of relationship" between his daughter and the suspect.

Lindsay's boyfriend Ryan Garside also attended the press conference and said how they loved each other and wanted to get married, but the tragedy had "ruined" their plans.

Meanwhile, Chiba prefectural police said Wednesday an autopsy showed Hawker may have died of suffocation. There were bruises on her face and elsewhere on her body, they said.

One of her friends, a 27-year-old American man, said that Hawker had planned to give Ichihashi a private English lesson on Sunday, the day before her body was found buried in sand in a bathtub on the balcony of his fourth-floor condo unit on Monday night.

The friend said he does not know how she came to offer such a lesson or how they got acquainted.

Police said that Hawker and Ichihashi apparently came to know each other several days before her body was found. They denied rumors that the two had been dating.

Meanwhile, in England, Hawker's two sisters paid an emotional tribute outside the family home. Lisa and Louise Hawker fought tears as they read prepared statements in Coventry, central England.

"Our sister Lindsay was our best friend. She was extraordinary in so many ways," said Lisa Hawker, 25. "Like so many people our age she wanted to see the world, and for some reason felt safer in Japan than in this country.

"We are all made constantly aware of the dangers on our own streets. Thousands of young people go abroad each year, and for some reason the dangers of home seem to be forgotten.

"If Lindsay's death can make at least one young person abroad be more vigilant, then perhaps one more family can be spared the pain, the devastation, and the despair we are all experiencing."

Louise Hawker, 20, said: "Our family are so close and we have been torn apart by what's happened. "You never think a thing like this could happen to you. We are normal people, and it does, and it hurts more than you can imagine."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dead British woman's family shocked at murder and suspect's escape from police

The family of the British woman whose body was found in Chiba Prefecture are "deeply shocked and upset" by the news of her death and the fact that the suspect escaped barefoot from the scene despite the presence of police officers, local media reported in England. The naked body of Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, was found buried in sand in a bathtub on the balcony of a fourth-floor condominium unit in Chiba Prefecture on Monday night.

Police obtained an arrest warrant Tuesday for Tatsuya Ichihashi, 28, who fled from the condominium in the city of Ichikawa when police officers visited on Monday.

Police were alerted on Monday afternoon after staff at the English language school where Hawker taught were unable to get in touch with her.

Hawker came from the city of Coventry, situated in the middle of England, about 130 kilometers northwest of London, where her family was being comforted by police.

Speaking after visiting the family home, which lies just outside the city, Inspector Dale Pritchard, from Warwickshire Police, said the family was "deeply shocked and upset" and wished to be left alone to come to terms with the news they had received from Tokyo.

In a televised statement he said, "They are in a terrible position, one in which no one would ever want to be."

Police later issued a photograph of Hawker on behalf of the family.

Hawker was employed as an English teacher at the Nova English school in Koiwa, also in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

A spokeswoman from Nova in London said, "She graduated from university last year and she began working with us on Oct 25, 2006. Lindsay was very well liked by her colleagues. She took her job seriously and was a very hard worker and she was adapting to life in Japan.

"The company would like to express its shock, upset and regret at such a tragic incident and the company is cooperating with all the investigations in Japan."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the family was receiving consular assistance and the department was happy with the police investigation.

Ichihashi, who escaped from the scene despite the presence of several police officers, is being sought on a charge of abandoning her body.

The bathtub contained a large amount of sand that completely covered the body except for part of a hand, and she had what appeared to be several assault wounds to the face and arms, according to investigations. The exact cause of death is unknown at this stage.

Nova denied some media reports that Ichihashi was a student with Nova and was dating Hawker.

Police officers found a note at Hawker's residence which contains Ichihashi's name and contact details. They also found clothes that appeared to have been worn by Hawker in Ichihashi's condominium. A bag and ID belonging to Hawker were also discovered. They said that Ichihashi had visited Hawker's residence a few days earlier.

Hawker arrived in Japan in October last year and lived in a residence in Funabashi city adjacent to Ichikawa with two other women — one from Australia and the other from Canada.

Ichihashi, whose profession is unknown, is said to be around 180 centimeters tall and weighing around 70 kilograms. He was wearing a red sweater at the time of his escape.

Ishihashi lived with three other family members in the apartment and moved to Gifu Prefecture when he was a child, according to nearby residents. He reentered the apartment several years ago when he joined a university and has since been living in it alone.

Residents nearby heard sounds of striking metal and something being dragged between Sunday night and early Monday, the sources said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Washington Post criticizes Abe's handling of sex slave issue

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign to roll back Japan's acceptance of responsibility for the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of women during World War II is "odd" and "offensive," the Washington Post said in its editorial on Saturday.

In a piece titled "Shinzo Abe's Double Talk," the U.S. daily criticized Abe's attitude over the so-called "comfort women" issue while comparing it with his enthusiasm in resolving North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals and refusing discussions with Pyongyang until it provides information on abductees certified by the Japanese government. "If Mr. Abe seeks international support in learning the fate of Japan's kidnapped citizens, he should straightforwardly accept responsibility for Japan's own crimes and apologize to the victims he has slandered," the editorial said.

No Japan military involvement in running wartime brothels: official

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura on Sunday denied that the Japanese military directly recruited women to work in brothels providing sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

"There were military nurses and embedded journalists but no 'embedded comfort women.' It is true that there were 'comfort women.' I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. But it does not mean the Japanese army was involved," Shimomura said in a program on Radio Nippon. Shimomura was referring to the controversial issue of whether the Japanese military was directly involved in forcing women, especially those from other Asian countries, into sexual servitude. Such women are euphemistically called "comfort women" in Japan.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Japan welcomes additional sanctions on Iran

Foreign Minister Taro Aso on Sunday welcomed the U.N. Security Council's approval of additional sanctions on Iran for its refusal to freeze its uranium enrichment program. "We appreciate the step as demonstrating the international community's firm stance on the Iranian nuclear issue," Aso said in a statement.

"Our nation thinks a resolute response to the Iranian nuclear issue is necessary in view of the maintenance of the nuclear nonproliferation system, its relationship to the North Korean nuclear issue and stability in the Middle East, which has a large influence on energy supply," he said, adding Japan will urge Iran to return to the negotiating table.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

American man served fresh arrest warrant for murder of ex-wife

A former U.S. airman who was arrested three weeks ago for allegedly damaging and dumping the body of his divorced Japanese wife in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, was served with a fresh arrest warrant Friday on suspicion of strangling her last July.

William Scott Omari McAllister, 25, was indicted the same day on charges of transporting the body of his ex-wife, Naomi Kimura, 33, in a car and setting fire to her body before abandoning it in the trunk.

Local police, meanwhile, did not file charges against his 29-year-old girlfriend, who had earlier been arrested on suspicion of providing the police with a false alibi for the suspect, and released her.

McAllister, who is currently facing trial on a separate case of fraud, was arrested March 2 but has denied any involvement in the murder or abandonment of his ex-wife, who was running a bar in Misawa.

The former U.S. serviceman, who worked at the U.S. Air Force's Misawa base in Aomori until December 2005, is alleged to have strangled her around July 20 last year.

Investigators had been provided with information that the victim had a quarrel with a "foreign" man at her home in the early hours of July 20.

McAllister was earlier arrested last August on suspicion of using another person's credit card to purchase a car navigation system.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Japan calls for more stringent beef product checks by U.S.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka said Friday that the ministry has demanded that Washington step up beef quality checks when beef is being shipped from designated U.S. meat-processing facilities authorized to export to Japan.

The minister spoke in connection with beef from the Lexington, Nebraska plant of Tyson Fresh Meats Inc, which was exported to Japan in February without any U.S. certificate identifying the age of the cattle from which the meat was produced. Japan had resumed American beef imports last July on condition that the United States limits beef exports to Japan to meat from cattle aged up to 20 months to safeguard against mad cow disease.

81-year-old man arrested for paying 14-year-old girl to have sex with him

The man said he first met the girl at a supermarket in January of 2006. He said he offered to buy her dinner and in May, started paying her for "sexual favors" once a month, according to police. He had also given her his cash card. The crime came to light when police found the girl who had run away from home in February and questioned her.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Abe urges N Korea to return to negotiations

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged North Korea on Tuesday to engage seriously in ongoing six-nation nuclear talks and to fulfill its promise to denuclearize, warning that Pyongyang would otherwise continue to face severe problems.

Asked to comment on North Korea's refusal Tuesday to attend the second-day session of the six-way talks in Beijing, Abe told reporters, "For as long as North Korea adopts this kind of attitude, it will not be able to change the circumstances it is currently facing."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

North Korea urges Japan to stop talking about abduction issue

North Korea is urging Japan to stop talking about North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals and sincerely implement a six-party talks deal promising to supply North Korea with aid in return for denuclearization steps, the Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.

"The DPRK strongly demands Japan stop talking about the 'abduction issue' but redeem the crimes committed by it in the past which are more horrendous than the issue," KCNA said, referring to Japan's wartime acts, such as forcing Korean women into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. KCNA said the abduction issue is already resolved.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shinzo Abe tells SDF cadets Japan seeks stronger U.S. security ties

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday that Japan should strengthen its security alliance with the United States, citing North Korea's abductions, nuclear program and missile launches as well as other challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. "There is a need to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance while steadily upgrading our country's national security platform in order to protect the people's lives, health and property," Abe said in an address to Self-Defense Forces cadets at a graduation ceremony at the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

As for the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, the premier said, "There exist various challenging problems, ranging from North Korea's abductions, nuclear development and ballistic missile launches to regional conflicts stemming from complex and diverse factors and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." The speech was made for this year's 421 graduates, including 30 women and 10 students from Indonesia, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam. Of the graduates, 10 have declined to join the SDF.

Masked wrestler Sasuke to run in Iwate gov election

MORIOKA — Iwate prefectural assemblyman and professional wrestler The Great Sasuke announced his plan Sunday to run in the April 8 Iwate gubernatorial election as an independent candidate. Sasuke, 38, said in a press conference at a hotel in the Iwate capital of Morioka that he intends to continue wearing his mask even if he is elected as governor.

The Great Sasuke, his ring name under which he has served as a prefectural assembly member, is known for establishing the first local wrestling organization in Japan, Michinoku Pro Wrestling (Northeastern Wrestling), in 1993. His wearing a mask at assembly sessions had incurred criticism from some of his fellow assembly members after he was elected to the assembly in the spring of 2003. His four-year term as an assembly member is about to expire.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

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U.S. ambassador says sex slaves were raped by Japanese military

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer has said that women, who were engaged in providing sex to Japanese soldiers throughout Asia before and during World War II, were rape victims of the Japanese military, the New York Times reported in its electronic edition Saturday.

"I think they were coerced to engage in prostitution. That means they were raped by the Japanese military at that point in time," Schieffer said, according to the dispatch from Tokyo. "I think that happened, and I think it was a regrettable, terrible thing that it happened." Schieffer described former comfort women who testified last month in Congress about being coerced into prostitution by the Japanese authorities as "credible witnesses."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

LDP group to reinvestigate sex slave issues

A group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers agreed Wednesday to a government request that they reinvestigate the facts that gave birth to a 1993 official statement apologizing for the Japanese military's forced recruitment of women to provide sex for servicemen during World War II.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the group's chair, Nariaki Nakayama, have differed over which side should conduct the investigation, but ultimately the group conceded to the wishes of Abe and his aides, who are hoping to act in a "cautious" manner ahead of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's planned visit to Japan in April, group members said. The move to reinvestigate the so-called "comfort women" comes amid Abe's recent controversial remarks disputing the Japanese military's role in wartime sexual slavery as well as arguments by some LDP lawmakers that the 1993 statement should be retracted because the military did not force foreign women into sexual slavery.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Curry tainted by dead mouse sold at Tokyo noodle stand

A JR East-affiliated restaurant operator said Tuesday that curry tainted by a dead mouse has been used in some of the food products sold at a noodle stand inside JR Shinkoiwa Station in Tokyo.

Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co said 18 meals sold at the noodle stand, including "curry soba" (buckwheat noodle) and "curry rice," for about two hours since its opening at 6:30 a.m., were made with the tainted curry.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Empress visits flower arrangement exhibition

Empress Michiko viewed flower arrangements on exhibit at a Tokyo department store on Thursday. It was her first official duty outside the Imperial Palace since the Imperial Household Agency said on Tuesday that she has shown symptoms of bleeding from the walls of the intestines several times. The exhibition was held in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Sogetsu school of flower arrangement.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

6 Vietnamese women to sue Toyota subcontractor

Six Vietnamese women who came to Japan to undergo industrial training and an internship under a Japanese government-sponsored skills-transfer program will soon sue a subcontractor of Toyota Motor Corp for more than 30 million yen in damages and unpaid wages, arguing their human rights were infringed upon and that overtime allowances were unpaid, their supporters said Thursday.

The women, all in their 20s, plan to also name as defendants in the suit the Japanese recipient body of the Vietnamese trainees, which is a union of Toyota's third-tier subcontractors, and the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, a body set up by five Japanese ministries to promote the transfer of Japanese techniques and skills to developing countries, they said.

Japan, N Korea blame each other for breakdown of talks

Japan and North Korea ended two days of talks on normalizing diplomatic relations without progress on Thursday, blaming each other for their failure to solve thorny bilateral rows and falling short of setting the next date for the negotiations.

Koichi Haraguchi, Japan's chief representative at the talks, and his North Korean counterpart Song Il Ho said major differences remained over bilateral issues, including a bitter dispute over Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. "I find it regrettable that specific solutions were not reached for the progress of Japan-North Korea relations during the current talks," he said. At a separate news conference, Song also said that "a big gap" remains between the two sides and that was the reason "nothing was reached" in the negotiations.

Japan eyes response to international criticism of Abe's sex slavery remarks

Japan is considering publishing counterarguments and taking other measures in response to international criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent remarks on wartime sex slaves, with the top government spokesman accusing foreign media on Thursday of misinterpreting the remarks.

"It is our understanding that reports on the prime minister's remarks were not based on appropriate interpretation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said in reference to the furor sparked by Abe's denial of military involvement in the coercion of foreign women into sexual servitude before and during World War II. "We are considering an appropriate response, including publishing rebuttals of media reports and commentaries overseas that are not based on facts or are based on misinterpretations," Shiozaki told a news conference when asked to comment on a New York Times editorial dated Tuesday that criticized Abe's "efforts to contort the truth."

Emperor best person to repair damage over sex slaves: LA Times

A major U.S. newspaper suggested in its editorial published Wednesday that Japan's Emperor Akihito "go one step further and offer a more forceful apology for all the crimes committed in his family's name," commenting on the ongoing controversy over the so-called "comfort women."

The Los Angeles Times' editorial said, "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to finesse the Japanese government's role in forcing about 200,000 Asian women to work as sex slaves during World War II is worse than unfortunate. It is counterproductive — and the best person to repair the damage is Emperor Akihito himself," the Times said. "The person who could do the most to reconcile the people of Japan and their neighbors with the past is Akihito, the son of wartime emperor Hirohito. He is also the one person who could lift this issue above the political fray."

apan-N Korea talks to continue despite snag over abductions

Japan and North Korea are set Thursday to meet for their second day of talks on normalizing diplomatic relations, after their bitter row over past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents triggered a stall on the first day. Koichi Haraguchi, Japan's delegate, and his North Korean counterpart Song Il Ho are due to meet at the North Korean Embassy in Hanoi to discuss both the abduction dispute as well as issues linked to Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea boycotted the afternoon session of the first day of the normalization talks, in objection to Tokyo's demands that it reinvestigate past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Pyongyang eventually agreed to return to the negotiating table Thursday after informal consultations with Japan, according to Japanese diplomats. In Wednesday's talks, Japan urged North Korea to reinvestigate the cases of 12 abduction victims on Japan's official list, or all of the listed victims except the five who returned to Japan in 2002.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Japan-North Korea normalization talks begin

Japanese and North Korean diplomats began two-day talks on Wednesday with both sides calling for a solution to thorny bilateral issues that have prevented them from normalizing diplomatic relations.

Koichi Haraguchi, Japan's representative at the talks, and his North Korean counterpart Song Il Ho met at the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi in the morning for talks that are first expected to focus on a bitter row over past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. "We plan to work...under the policy of aiming for the normalization of diplomatic ties based on a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear and missile issues as well as the settling of the unfortunate past," Haraguchi said at the outset of the talks, which was open to the press.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

S Korea's Song raps Abe's remarks on sex slaves

South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Song Min Soon criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday for disputing that the Imperial Japanese Army forced foreign women into sexual slavery during World War II, Yonhap News Agency reported.

"Anyone who doubts the sexual slavery by Japanese imperialism during World War II has to squarely face the truth," Song said after giving a speech in Washington, according to Yonhap. "Such remarks do not help to forge healthy and future-oriented relations between the two countries." Song is the first member of the South Korean cabinet to lash out at Abe for his reported remarks on Thursday that there is no evidence to prove that women were coerced into working in brothels run by Japan's military during the war.

Japs won't give 'even 1 yen' to N Korea unless abductions resolved: Aso

Japan will not give North Korea "even 1 yen" in aid unless the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by the North is resolved, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Saturday before the two countries hold normalization talks next week. He added that Japan is ready to maintain economic sanctions on Pyongyang including the ban on port calls in Japan by the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92.

The remarks come before the two countries restart talks on normalizing diplomatic relations in Hanoi on Wednesday under the framework agreed during last month's six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear development programs. While experts are voicing concern that Japan may be isolated in the nuclear talks by sticking to the abduction issue, Aso flatly denied this, saying, "Japan will never be isolated."

Friday, March 02, 2007

U.S. lawmaker disputes Abe's contention that evidence of sex slaves doesn't exist

A U.S. lawmaker spearheading legislation urging the Japanese government to "officially" apologize for pressing women into sexual servitude during World War II cited an "overwhelming historical record" of the practice, following reported remarks by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disputing that such evidence of coercion exists.

Abe is reported to have said Thursday that there is no evidence to prove that women were coerced into working in brothels run by Japan's military government during the war, in apparent contrast to a 1993 government statement acknowledging and apologizing for the forced recruitment of so-called 'comfort women' in places such as China and Korea.

Following Abe's remarks, Rep Mike Honda said in a statement that "the overwhelming historical record makes it clear that the Japanese Imperial Army forced as many as 200,000 women into sexual slavery during the Second World War."

Honda urged Tokyo to offer an "official" apology for what he called "undeniable past wrongs," saying it would "only increase Japan's standing as a member of the community of free, democratic nations."

Honda, along with a group of powerful House Republicans, is sponsoring legislation calling on Abe to offer an official apology to former victims of sexual slavery. Prospects are high that the legislation will pass the Democrat-controlled Congress after four similar bills failed to come to a full lower chamber vote in past years under the Republican majority.

The resolution has drawn sharp protest from the Japanese government both in Tokyo and Washington, with Foreign Minister Taro Aso calling the legislation "extremely regrettable and definitely not based on facts."

Japan's Ambassador to the United States Ryozo Kato has also argued against passage of the bill, saying his country has already apologized and cautioning it could harm otherwise sound U.S.-Japan relations.

In his statement Honda also cited the 1993 statement, issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, as evidence of Japan's admitted culpability in the comfort women practice.

While Tokyo has said it stands by the statement — Abe indicated last month that he had no intention of revising it — a group of senior ruling party lawmakers is demanding it be reviewed.

Underscoring the momentum of the most recent congressional attempt to prod Japan on the issue, a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently held a hearing on the comfort women resolution, hearing testimony from three women who said they were forced to provide sex for the Japanese military during World War II.

Honda has argued that passing the legislation has become urgent given the advancing age of the former victims of Japan's sexual enslavement, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s.