LOS ANGELES • Construction company Mitsubishi Materials is the first major Japanese business to apologise for using captured American soldiers as slave labour during World War II, expressing remorse for "the tragic events in our past".
A company representative on Sunday offered the apology on behalf of its predecessor, Mitsubishi Mining, at a special ceremony.
"We apologise remorsefully for the tragic events in our past," Mitsubishi Materials senior executive officer Hikaru Kimura said at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
About 12,000 American prisoners of war (POWs) were forced to work for the Japanese government and private companies seeking to fill a wartime labour shortage. More than 1,100 of them died, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Six prisoner of war camps in Japan were linked to the Mitsubishi conglomerate, and they held 2,041 prisoners, more than 1,000 of whom were American, according to the non-profit research centre Asia Policy Point.
SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
As the company that succeeded Mitsubishi Mining, we cannot help feeling a deep sense of ethical responsibility for this past tragedy.
MR HIKARU KIMURA, senior Mitsubishi executive
A SIMPLE APOLOGY
For 70 years since the war ended, the prisoners of war who worked for these Japanese companies have asked for something very simple, they asked for an apology.
MR JAMES MURPHY, 94, one of the few surviving US POWs forced to work in Japan
Mitsubishi Materials now makes everything from cement to electronics. Its predecessor ran four sites that, at the time of liberation in 1945, held about 876 American POWs. Twenty-seven Americans died in those prison camps, Asia Policy Point said.
Previous Japanese prime ministers have apologised for the country's WWII aggression, and the Japanese government officially apologised to former American POWs only five years ago.
Private corporations have, however, been less contrite.
On Sunday, Mr Kimura was flanked by Mr Yukio Okamoto, a former special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with an image of the American and Japanese flags.
Mr Okamoto, an outside board member, said Mitsubishi's past facilitation of forced labour had tormented him and his colleagues.
"I entered the room with a heavy heart seeking forgiveness but instead of grievances, I was met with generosity and forgiveness," he told the audience, which included forced-labour survivors and their family members.
Mr Kimura presented a "most remorseful apology" to 94-year-old James Murphy of California, one of just a few surviving American prisoners forced to work in Japan.
"This is a glorious day," said Mr Murphy, who laboured at Mitsubishi Mining's Osarizawa Copper Mine. He was also part of the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines.
"For 70 years since the war ended, the prisoners of war who worked for these Japanese companies have asked for something very simple, they asked for an apology," added Mr Murphy.
Sunday's apology also came amid a lawsuit in which the descendants of hundreds of Chinese men forced to work in wartime Japan are seeking millions of dollars in compensation from a subsidiary of Mitsubishi and a joint venture between Mitsubishi and Mitsubishi Materials. Mr Kimura declined to discuss the lawsuit.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE