Dec. 8, 2015, marks the 74th year since the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States triggered by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The two countries have built up a firm bilateral alliance since the end of the war, but there are still those who have mental scars from the war. Japan and the United States must continue efforts to heal these people's scars.
A group of 10 people including former U.S. servicemen who were detained by the Japanese military as prisoners-of-war have visited Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government and are scheduled to stay in the country until Dec. 14.
In 2010, the government began the project of inviting former U.S. servicemen detained by Japan as POWs with the aim of promoting mutual understanding between the two countries through reconciliation. A total of 97 people -- former POWs and their caregivers -- have visited Japan as part of the project.
Former POWs are aging as 70 years have passed since the end of the war. Those staying in Japan belong to the second group for this year following another group who came to Japan in October.
Among those invited by the Japanese government to visit Japan include at least one survivor of the so-called Bataan Death March, in which the Japanese military forced POWs to walk for about 100 kilometers on the Bataan Peninsula, the Philippines, in 1942, causing many of them to die. In 2009, Ichiro Fujisaki, then Japanese ambassador to the United States, attended a meeting of these former POWs and offered an apology. The ongoing invitation project began the following year.
In his address before U.S. Congress in April 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed condolences to those who lost their lives in the last war, specifically mentioning battlefields such as Bataan, Corregidor and the Coral Sea. A dinner meeting that the prime minister and his wife hosted was attended by former POWs.
There was a step toward reconciliation between Japanese companies and former POWs used by these businesses as workers.
In July this year, Mitsubishi Materials Corp. officially apologized to former American POWs and bereaved families for its predecessor having forced the victims to work during the war. Mitsubishi Materials is the first Japanese company to do so.
Around the year 2000 -- when former U.S. servicemen detained by Japan as POWs were suing Japanese companies for using them as workers during the war -- the Japanese government never compromised its position that Japan has no legal responsibility for such labor because the issue was settled under the San Francisco Peace Treaty that came into force in 1952. Since Tokyo's position was upheld by courts, the government apologized for its moral responsibility, which appears to be encouraging private companies to spontaneously offer an apology to former POWs they used as workers.
The United States often becomes a venue for international debate on historical issues. As such, Mitsubishi Materials' move is of great significance although no other companies have followed suit.
However, Japan's efforts to improve its relations with its Asian neighbors have not made sufficient progress. Mitsubishi Materials is seeking to reach a settlement with Chinese victims during lawsuits the victims have filed against the firm.
The United States has displayed its willingness to mediate between Japan and South Korea whose relations have been chilled over the comfort women issue. The United States has huge influence on efforts to break a deadlock in disputes that relevant parties cannot easily settle.
The issue of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still casts a shadow over Japan-U.S. relations. It is hoped that lingering ill feelings will be eliminated through efforts by the two countries, paving the way for a visit by the U.S. president to atomic-bombed cities.