Although Japan kept "apologizing" for atrocities committed during World War 2 for more than 70 years, the apologies were deemed "not sincere enough" by the victims.

This stands in huge contrast with Germany, who also perpetuated atrocities during World War 2, but apparently has since apologized to the satisfaction of other many other governments and moved on.

Why did countries victims from Japanese atrocities not consider the apologizes from Japan sincere? Is it because Japan's victims were a lot more demanding, or because Japan's apologies were not perceived as as 'sincere' as the German ones?

Note: I use "apology" in quotation because I realize that it might not be real apology, and hence the second question. So to reply a comment, yes, i read all of the wiki article I link to.

Edit: This question was discussed on meta.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The system automatically flags questions with long comment strings. Long comment strings may indicate a flawed question. This is another reason for Original Posters to avoid replying in comments.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 17:18
  • Once comments have been moved to chat, all subsequent comments should be made there unless they explicitly ask for more information about or suggest improvements to the question. All other comments will be deleted. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 23:14
  • Are you asking why Japan did not do more or different things, or are you asking about the perception in countries that fell victim to Japanese agression?
    – mart
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 8:23
  • @mart, both or either. I just want to know the truth
    – Graviton
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 9:52

3 Answers 3



Personally, I think this question should probably have remained closed, since your main question:

"Why did Japan never “apologize” enough for World War 2?"

appears to be fully answered by the Wikipedia article you cite, and would thus appear to be too basic under the normal rules for this site.

That article also implies an answer to the "second question" you mention (which has actually been edited out of the question in its current version):

"... what prevented Japan from issuing a 'perceived as sincere' apology long ago ..."

but other answers to this question are also possible.

However, those answers are likely to be primarily opinion-based since you have not specified by whom that apology would have to be 'perceived as sincere'.

Questions to which the answers are likely to be primarily opinion-based are also off-topic for this site.

However, since the community has voted to un-delete and re-open the question, I will try to answer it.


The Wikipedia article you cited includes a section titled Controversy. This section appears to answer your main question, and at least imply one answer to your supplemental question.

To take the specific example of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's 2006 apology, the Wikipedia article notes that:

In October 2006, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's apology was followed on the same day by a group of 80 Japanese lawmakers' visit to the Yasukuni Shrine which enshrines more than 1,000 convicted war criminals. Two years after the apology, Shinzo Abe also denied that the Imperial Japanese military had forced comfort women into sexual slavery during World War II . In addition, Prime Minister Abe claimed that the Class A war criminals "are not war criminals under the laws of Japan". He also cast doubt on Murayama apology by saying, "The Abe Cabinet is not necessarily keeping to it" and by questioning the definition used in the apology by saying, "There is no definitive answer either in academia or in the international community on what constitutes aggression. Things that happen between countries appear different depending on which side you're looking from."

[Citations for these assertions are included in the original article.]

It is, perhaps, unsurprising therefore that many felt that apology to be insincere.

Now, consider the hypothetical situation where Germany had maintained an official shrine to Nazi war-criminals, and that a large group of members of the Bundestag had visited that shrine shortly after the German Chancellor had issued a formal apology for atrocities committed during the war.

Imagine that a couple of years later, the German Chancellor had also then denied that some of those atrocities had actually occurred, and argued that in any case, those war-crimes were not actually 'crimes' under German law.

Do you think that people would have believed the original official apology to have been sincere under those circumstances?

Of course, Germany did not maintain such a shrine, and no German Chancellor has made statements of that kind, but considering this hypothetical situation illustrates why many people felt that apologies by the Japanese government may not have been wholly sincere.

When it comes to your supplemental question, I would say that in my opinion the passage quoted from the Wikipedia above also provides an answer.

The mention of the lawmakers' visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in October 2006, and Prime Minister Abe's later comments suggest that a significant number of Japanese lawmakers do not believe that the war-crimes were, in fact, war crimes and so no 'genuine' apology is therefore necessary.

Now, in reality, for most practical and diplomatic purposes, most western governments have long accepted the public apologies from the Japanese government. Trade and diplomatic relations have been normalised for decades.

This does not, however, mean that all the citizens of those countries have accepted those apologies.

I have had the privilege of meeting with, and talking to, a number of veterans who served in the Far East during the Second World War over the years. Most are now dead, but none (to my knowledge) ever accepted the various apologies offered by Japanese governments.

In particular, during the 1990s, when the question of reparation payments was being discussed, more than one expressed their opinion to me that no sincere apology could or would ever be made.

My mother lost two brothers during the war. One was killed at Dunkirk, the other died in Sandakan Camp in Borneo (modern Malaysia). I didn't know either of them. They died long before I was born.

She always said that she could accept the death of her brother who died at Dunkirk, presumably killed in battle. However, she remained angry at the "murder" of her brother while a prisoner of war, and often said things like "nobody was brought to justice for it" and that "Japan has never really apologised, and probably never will".

Each time a formal apology was issued, she would say something along the lines of "let's wait and see", and then, later, point out the subsequent actions by the Japanese government which she felt invalidated that apology.

Now, I wouldn't presume to speak for others whose experiences, and so also their opinions, may be different. I agree with Mark C. Wallace's (now deleted) comment:

Some people will never accept the apology. That is their trauma and I won't judge it.

Others might indeed accept an apology, if they can be convinced that it is genuinely sincere. Of course, given the time that has passed without an 'acceptable' apology, convincing them of its sincerity may be the problem.


Another possibility, and this is largely opinion, but the question itself invites opinion...

Japanese culture is quite different from Western culture in many ways, especially in interpersonal communications. The Japanese tend to speak and even act in a more subtle and nuanced manner than most Western people. A vague parallel might be found in a Western person hearing about something happening that they really don't like, and responding "well, that's just great" in a sarcastic tone. If you didn't understand the culture and context, you'd think they mean the opposite. Japanese culture is loaded with hidden meanings like that, far more than Western culture.

Also keep in mind that prior to the war, the militarists had been in control of Japan's government for many decades before.

At the end of the war, Japan went further than the peace term dictated, as regards their military. They abolished it outright, only later establishing the Self Defense Force, as rising tensions between the major powers led to conflicts in Asia. They even wrote it into their constitution... their forces cannot be used to attack another nation, for any reason, and they cannot sell military equipment made in Japan outside of their country. This is why Japan's contribution to the 1991 Gulf War were medical units, and not combat troops.

And, while Japan does wield considerable economic power and does use that in foreign relationships, it does not use what military it has as an instrument of foreign policy.

From a Japanese point of view, taking extraordinary steps to transform their nation into one that is incapable of repeating the horrible acts of the war, even to the point of leaving it somewhat defenseless, and eradicating the militarist elements from their government and their society, is a very sincere form of apology, especially for a traditional culture that does not normally exhibit dramatic changes.

So the complaints today may be more along the lines of Japan has not issued an apology that is easily recognizable in Western culture. The German efforts, coming from a Western culture, are more readily identifiable.

  • It should be noted that those who are not satisfied with Japan apologies are those from East Asia countries that inherit the same culture and norms as the Japanese do.
    – Graviton
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 7:59
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    Refs? Notice: "Militarists were in control of" Germany since – before it was Germany? Aristocracy & military elite were ~identical, and since 1871 unquestionably dominating with a short & small dent called Weimar. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 10:00
  • I mostly agree with your answer but cultural relativism is not a defence
    – joe
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 3:27

Eastern Germany re-organised itself as an affiliate (disputed 1953, 1989) of Soviet foreign policy. Soviet ideology dictated that human social organisations were not inhering in national identity (Stalin "On Linguistics", Soviet policy in central Asia, not with standing, but not significant). This led Soviet ideology to emphasise the historically contingent features of fascism in Germany: that a new Germany was possible. The Soviet Union was assisted here by its preferred German rulers—nomenklatura SPD and KPD bootlickers—being victims of NSDAP persecution. Thus the DDR had nothing to apologise for.

The BRD, by comparison, reorganised with significant problematic individuals as members of the ruling class. The BRD being riddled with Hitlerites is a common myth in both American cinema and BRD anarchist and left-communist circles. More historiographically participants in BRD government used the Myth of the Clean Wehrmacht and other NSDAP specific mythology to cleanse themselves. Unlike the persecution of SPD or KPD elites, liberal bourgeois elites had been more thoroughly compromised. Unlike the Soviet myth of class contingency and fascism as a universal phenomena, the German specific nature of Nazism in Franco-Britanio-Americano explanations of the rise of Nazism compromised collaborators as more than just pawns of historical materialism: but as willing liberal individuals. To make the BRD palatable to French, British and US publics and elites required a process of apology directed primarily at those elites and publics. While funding to Israel existed, this was marginal compared to returns on profits for Western firms. (We may here compare transfers in denoted units to the Soviet Union to 1957…). Even then, it took until changes in historiography, led by Jewish particularists and historical materialists (whether marxist or not), eventually amplified by small unit studies (Browning 1992) to cause the BRD's apologetic position. Before these cemented positions, the older generation swept dust under the rug, and the younger generation of baby boomers (such as Baader-Meinhoff) assassinated US service personnell.

Japan is different. Japan was primarily responsible to China, the Phillipines and Indonesia for its monstrosity. The Phillipines were, in a common understanding, a hegemonised neocolony of the united states. The Indonesians were dangerously socialist, and then dangerously non-socialist. The Chinese were irrelevant or communist scum. The United States used Japan as a producer of weapons and brothel in dodgy conditions for two asian wars. In addition, disciplinary assaults, murder and rapes on Japanese civillians only slowed down to the normal rates for occupations well after they did in Germany. The chief controller of Japan, the United States, had little interest in apology when it could exploit and discipline. In contrast Germany became a contested space much earlier and the disciplinary punishment of civillians ended much sooner: famously with public execution after day 3 of the siege "rape" in Soviet Berlin, by 1950 in Western germany. Unlike Germany, Japan was never beholden to the powers it had offended. And in many ways the myth of offence was constructed by ideologies to justify their conflict. Neither Soviet nor American cared about dead Roma. The Soviets never cared about dead Jews, the term being "Soviet citizen" or "Yugoslav citizen."

The question assumes that the categories of Japan, victim, apology are all secure and neutral. They are deeply historiographically contested, as the left wing Japanese teachers' unions' attitude to the state and its curriculum would demonstrate.

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    Objection. GDR had quite a few diehard Nazis as well, but most of them fled West, and the FRG had loads of them in leading positions. That is no myth. Globke, Otto Ambros, Filbinger, Amt Blank, Schleyer etc. The 'SPD/KPD/SED were compromised'? In what way? By not committing war crimes/atrocisties while being in KZs or exile? (I see a lot of good allusions for late-dating, but miss refs – throughout). FRG was continuation of the Reich, GDR "new". Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 9:55
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    Again a good comment, that needs to be in the A. with refs. But the A contains plain errors: "common myth" eg as 'used as /denounced as myth what was fact'? Significant stages missing: Korean War, French/German 'Europe', (official Israel relations seem to be there, but underdeveloped in this A), Brandt 1972, Weizsäcker 1985, the persecuting innocence culminating in perverting Adorno into 'because of Auschwitz we must bomb Belgrade – again' Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 10:20
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    I'd be fully satisfied with a good A to this really excellent (underlying) Q, with you flagging comments as obsolete once edit is done and with you eventually leaving constructive, even harshest criticism under my As. ;) Keep at it. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 10:40
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    DAMN HARD. And poweful support for. Will think a couple of weeks to reincorporoate. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 10:49
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    I'm trying to make sense of the sentence "the younger generation assassinated US service personnell." Can you explain what you mean? I also can't make out what time are you talking about here.
    – uUnwY
    Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 0:06

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