Comfort Zone

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Tomiichi Murayama

Amid anti-Japanese sentiment, Japan PM Tomiichi Murayama sought refuge at the Manila Hotel and planned for peace

August 1994. It is raining, but that does not keep protesters from picketing near the Manila Hotel. They are waiting for Japan’s most important person: Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

His visit to the country was marked by controversy as protest groups, primarily ‘comfort women,’ believed that the Japanese government had not given due compensation to the victims of Japanese atrocities in World War II.

Faced with anti-Japanese sentiment and the wrath of Philippine weather, Murayama could not have chosen a better billet than the Manila Hotel. It was both his refuge and a starting point to healing the rift between the Philippines and Japan.

Murayama, a member of the Japanese Socialist Party, was the first Socialist prime minister from the party since 1948. His state visit aimed to expand bilateral understanding on issues affecting economic and cultural relations between the two countries. One particularly prickly issue was that of ‘comfort women,’ a major point on the agenda of his visit to the Philippines.

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos was expected to ask Murayama for financial support from the Japanese government for war victims and for JapaneseFilipino children or Japinos.

According to a report from the RP Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the term Japino refers to babies born to Japanese men and Filipino women “out of economic consequences.” Japinos are also disparagingly called ‘hinomaru babies’ after the hinomaru, the Japanese flag.

The DFA report also cited the increasing population of Japanese-Filipino children as one of the problems of Filipino women living and working in Japan. For instance, Filipina workers in the entertainment business “are not well-accepted by the Japanese society and their social undesirability consequently extends to their children.”

In a briefing at the Manila Hotel, deputy press secretary Kishichiro Amae announced that the talks had been promising.

Prime Minister Murayama had promised President Ramos that the Japanese government was contemplating concrete steps to show its sincere apology and its desire to put the issue of comfort women to rest.

By 1993, the Japanese government had already given a total of US$721.5 million in official development aid to the Philippines. In 1994, the country pledged more than US$1 billion in financial assistance. At the time, Japan was the country’s largest sole donor of official assistance.

The Murayama government’s approach to the issue of comfort women was to set up the Asian Women’s Fund to collect ‘atonement money’ from Japanese donors. This fund would then be used to put up medical and welfare projects including vocational training for war victims.

In 1995, Murayama formally apologized for Japan’s part in World War II. He also announced in 1996 that the Japanese government would pay compensation to any surviving comfort women. Although delayed by almost half a century, the apology and compensation helped pave the way for better relations with Japan, one of the country’s biggest benefactors and trading partners.

Murayama’s visit to the Philippines may have hogged the headlines but the place he called home while he was here is equally as newsworthy. The Manila Hotel surely has great appeal even to the most controversial people. But you don’t have to be intriguing to stay there. Book a room and you might just wish you were in a middle of a controversy just so you can retreat into the hotel’s luxurious interiors.

Print ed: 06/10


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