Japan’s relations with its neighbors have long been haunted by residual acrimony over atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Politicians in China and South Korea maintain that Japan never properly atoned for its imperial transgressions, rankling Japanese officials.
Those historical issues returned to center stage in recent weeks, due to a long-running case before the South Korean Supreme Court in which four Korean men sought damages from a major Japanese steelmaker that forced them to work without pay during World War II. On Oct. 30, the court ruled that the defendant, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., must pay roughly $88,000 in damages to each of the four plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Japan more than 20 years ago but was rejected by Japanese courts, leading the men to seek recourse back home in South Korea. During that long struggle, all but one of the claimants passed away. “It would have been good if we were still here together,” said 94-year-old Lee Chun-sik, the only surviving plaintiff, after the verdict was announced. “I won the case but I am here alone, so I am sad. A lot of tears are coming out.”