Seeking to resolve an issue that still haunts its dealings with its neighbors, Japan has decided to commit $1 billion to programs intended as symbolic compensation to tens of thousands of women from Korea and other nations who were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Details of the plan, which is also directed at other victims of Japan's wartime aggression, were sketchy. But the government is expected to announce on Wednesday that the money would be spent over 10 years on programs like youth exchanges with other Asian nations and on support for research on Japan's wartime activities, government officials and press reports said. Japan also plans to build a vocational training center for women in the Philippines.The plan is not expected to satisfy groups representing the women, however, because it does not include direct payments to the victims.
The plan is the latest in a series of grudging steps by Japan to acknowledge the scope of its wartime brutality, including the vast network of military brothels that it established from China to Southeast Asia to the South Pacific during the war.
After decades of denials, the Japanese government acknowledged only in 1992 that the brothels existed; it offered a fuller accounting and an apology last year.
Historians have estimated that as many as 200,000 women and teenage girls were forced to serve in the brothels between 1932, soon after Japan's invasion of Manchuria, and the end of the war in 1945. The victims included Koreans, Chinese and Philippine women, as well as some Dutch women captured in Indonesia, then a Dutch colony.
Although officials have been hinting for months that some form of financial aid might be forthcoming, Japan has formally avoided using the term "compensation" for fear of opening a Pandora's box of claims from other victims - British prisoners of war, Koreans who were forced to work in Japanese factories or to fight for the Japanese army, and countless other people.
Tokyo still maintains that the issue of compensation has already been settled by agreements it reached with other governments after the war.
It is nonetheless considering setting up a mechanism under which individuals and corporations could contribute privately to a fund that would be used to compensate the women. There has been opposition to this plan within the government, however, and it was not yet clear whether the fund would be mentioned in the announcement.
Significantly, the announcement is coming just after Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama returned from an eight-day trip to Southeast Asia, where he was constantly confronted with lingering bitterness over Japan's aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.
"My heart aches when I think about this issue," Murayama is reported to have told the President of the Philippines, Fidel V. Ramos, last week, in a reference to the women who were forced into servitude. During his visit, women staged a protest in Manila to press their demand for direct compensation.