SEOUL — On the 100th anniversary Tuesday of Japan's annexation of the Korean peninsula, office worker Hwang Jung-won listened as Japan's prime minister apologized for his nation's role in decades of harsh colonial rule. But like many others here, she wasn't convinced of the sincerity of this latest mea-culpa.
"An apology is better than nothing, but if they are truly sorry, they should make compensations for all the victims during the colonization including comfort women," the 33-year-old said.
More than a half-century after Japan ended its 35-year occupation of Korea at the close of World War II, many wounds have still not healed. Many older Koreans still remember such indignities as being forced to change their names to Japanese, fight as soldiers and even work as prostitutes for the military – young girls who became known as comfort women.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to South Korean residents for his nation's transgressions all those generations ago. "For the enormous damage and suffering caused by this colonization, I would like to express once again our deep regret and sincere apology," Kan said in a statement endorsed by his cabinet.
Still residents like Kim Hyung-il wanted gestures over mere words. The prime minister's statement, many noted, did not mention Koreans forced into manual labor and sexual slavery.
"The Japanese government needs to show action, not just some words on a piece of paper," said Kim, a 73-year old retiree who was a young boy during the occupation.
On Tuesday, in a brief telephone conversation with Kan, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took note of the sincerity of the gesture, but called on South Korea's Asian neighbor to put the statement into action.
Presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said that Lee asked Kan to cooperate on pending issues in a "wise and sincere manner."
Meanwhile, Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said: "We recognize Prime Minister Kan's statement that Japan wishes to frankly look back on its past mistakes and expect that the Japanese people to share this view."
Japan's Korean occupation came to a close with its surrender at the end of World War II. While Tokyo has in the past apologized for its past aggression against its Asian neighbors, Kan's statement on Tuesday specified South Korea. No mention was made of North Korea.
Kan added that Japan would return Korean cultural artifacts, including historical documents, it acquired during its rule.
Yet an editorial in the Korean-language Munhwa Ilbo newspaper called for Japan to take further action for its past.
"The statement is only half complete as it apologizes for the annexation against the will of the Korean people," the newspaper said, 'but fails to mention the illegality of the action."
Kim is a researcher in the Times' Seoul Bureau