| Even at age 90, he was enthusiastic when delivering speech and answering to questions. Last week, Japan`s former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama delivered a lecture in Seoul. "Murayama conversation should never be altered. The comfort women issue has to be settled down by determinations from the heads of Korea and Japan. His message showed a devotion to solve this very issue.
I met Murayama about 30 years ago. He was a sincere person, and didn`t stand out at the Japan`s Socialist Party and no one had expected him to become prime minister. But he became Japan`s prime minister in 1994, when Japan was going through turbulent times. It was him who was surprised the most.
The leading Democratic Party, which didn`t hold amajority, crowned him, then the head of runner-up party, to create a coalition government. Murayama had rejected the proposal, saying, "No kidding," but accepted the offer at the last minute.
The then head of the Democratic Party was dovish Yohei Kono who pressed him. Kono had announced "Kono conversation" that apologized the sexual slavery issue as the Miyazawa Kiichi Cabinet`s chief. At the Murayama administration, Kono became deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, launching a dovish administration, which could be recorded in history around the war.
He wanted to accomplish something. The "Murayama conversation" titled "50 years after War" was announced on Aug. 15, 1995 as part of that effort. Key excerpt is as follows. "Our country ruined national policy in near past that led to war, which put our people in crisis of existence, and gave damages and pain to people in countries suffering from colony and invasion, especially in Asia. In order not to make any wrongdoings in the future, I humbly accept this indubitable historical fact, and express acute self-reflection and feelings of apology. I express deep regret to all victims within and outside the country the history has had brought."
This conversation that became the ultimate edition for apology to Asia was decided at the Cabinet council of the coalition government. Famous right-wing Democratic Party members were included in the council and they could have not felt inclined to make apology. On discussing the 50 years after war resolution selected in parliament some time earlier, arguments arose that the war liberated Asia and absorption of the Joseon Dynasty was based on agreement, leading to side effects. So Murayama was betting on this conversation. He had responded solemnly that he became prime minister due to request. He added that he will reshuffle the cabinet if there`s opposition, which enabled approval without conflict.
The Murayama conversation has been passed down to prime ministers and has been used as a means to show Japan`s self-reflection. However, there were group of members who complained about the Murayama and Kono conversations. As the hope of right-wing politicians, Shinzo Abe was one of them.
The Murayama administration formed Asian female fund related with the sexual slavery issue and tried to solve it with private funds. This was a desperate measure on judgment that then political situation would make it impossible to pay compensation since legislation was out of the question.
After stepping down from prime minister, Murayama served as chairman of the fund and made further efforts but failed to gain understanding in Korea. The issue has since become more complicated and remains to be settled even now. At a lecture in Seoul last week, Murayama said, "I can`t tolerate this situation," sending signals that the heads of Korea and Japan should solve the issue and end the long journey.
On August 15 National Liberation Day, President Park Geun-hye demanded Japan for resolution on comfort women issue through a speech, but at the same time sent a positive message for the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. She hoped to do something even if it means small steps.
(Written by Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun)