The apology has been met with mixed responses in Seoul, where South Korean politicians reportedly 'noted' the apology but said it failed to go far enough. Hundreds of South Korean women enslaved by the Japanese as so-called comfort women during the occupation have also held noisy protests outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul denouncing the apology.
Presenter: Bo Hill
Naoto Kan, Japanese prime minister; Kim Bok-dong, former 'comfort woman'; Han Kook-yeom, former 'comfort woman'
HILL: Apologise, apologise - they shout. Hundreds of supporters of former comfort women rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, calling on Japan to pay for their wartime atrocities. And on Tuesday, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan did. His apology for the suffering in Korea under Japanese occupation comes ahead of the centenary of Japan's annexation of the Korean peninsula this month. In a statement he said he expressed deep remorse and apologised for the tremendous damage and suffering. In his speech, Mr Kan sought to sweeten a lasting bitterness in South Korea over the treatment of its people during the 35 year occupation.
KAN: (TRANS) The political relationship between our two countries is developing in a good direction. So, I want the statement that we have delivered this time to form the basis of improving our relationship and moving forward.
HILL: South Korea is Japan's third largest export market and a key partner in dealing with a nuclearised North Korea. And despite criticism from both his own party and from the opposition, Naoto Kan is hoping the apology will go a long way towards strengthening bilateral relations. The South Korean foreign minister said Mr Kan's statement was welcome and said Seoul accepts the Japanese government's willingness to develop a better relationship. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak did not make an official reply to the apology, however he has welcomed a corresponding announcement that Korean artefacts dating back hundreds of years would be returned by Japan. South Korean political parties reportedly described the apology as 'progress' but said that it did not go far enough. And some of the few remaining women forced into prostitution by the Japanese imperial army during the occupation agree.
KIM BOK-DONG: (TRANS) I don't know what kind of man the Japanese prime minister is, I am just thinking of the wrongs in Japan's past.
HILL: Seven former sex slaves along with hundreds of supporters said the latest apology needed to be backed by compensation for the almost 200,000 Asian women forced to work in the brothels.
HAN KOOK-YEOM: (TRANS) He should have made an apology to the people who were forced to work as sex slaves or manual labourers, but he just made a vague apology. It wasn't sincere.