TOKYO -- Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of Japan did yesterday what no other Japanese leader has dared to do: He extended his "heartfelt apology" for atrocities his country committed in World War II.
"In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology," Mr. Murayama said.
His speech is sure to provoke strident debate throughout the nation, for his words were clearer than those of any other Japanese official trying to address Japan's war role. And yet his striking words may not appease the anger and hatred that permeates this region over the war.
From China to South Korea to the Philippines, in countries where the Japanese practiced torture, killings and gruesome experiments, victims and their relatives have been bringing their suffering to the fore. As a result, Asian countries have repeatedly plied Japan with hints, sometime even outright demands, for apologies.
For Mr. Murayama, the speech fulfills a personal mission, one that he and his Socialist Party have fought for fiercely over the years. In a nationally televised speech from his modest residence, Mr. Murayama spoke solemnly, almost determinedly.
"During a certain period in the not too distant past," he said, "Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."
Mr. Murayama gave his speech shortly before attending a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. It is the separation of the apology from the official ceremony that raised the question of whether Mr. Murayama was diminishing the impact of his apology.