Compared to his previous visits to China, Nakamura Yojiro's trip to Beijing last weekend carried different meaning.
Kang Jian, a lawyer with Beijing's Fangyuan Law Office, shows a Japanese newspaper reporting the forced Chinese labourers' lawsuit against the Japanese Government on February 2. Historical documents suggest about 40,000 Chinese citizens were forced to work for 35 corporations in Japan during World War II.
For the past five years the 69-year-old Japanese lawyer has been representing Chinese citizens forced to work in Japan during World War II in a lawsuit against the Japanese Government and concerned Japanese businesses.
This time, he brought news of a legal victory.
In a landmark ruling on March 26, Niigata District Court ordered the Japanese Government and a private firm that forced 12 Chinese citizens to work during World War II to pay 8 million yen (US$75,400) in compensation to each of the labourers.
The ruling marked the first time a Japanese court laid blame on the government for its role in kidnapping tens of thousands of Chinese, Koreans and people from other Asian countries for forced labour in Japan.
"I came here to report the victory to those victims, which is a hard-won result of painstaking efforts made by both Chinese and Japanese lawyers and thousands of supporters for the lawsuit," Yojiro told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
He described the victory at Niigata District Court as a "revolutionary outcome" since it overthrew all previous verdicts Japanese courts have made in other Chinese forced-labour cases on the basis of a 20-year statute of limitations on filing claims. Also, it specified the Japanese Government should be held responsible for the suffering of the labourers.
"The case underwent a long process from the Japanese Government's denial of the charge of imposing persecutions on forced labourers to its recognition of the historic truth while refusing to confess its responsibility for the kidnapping of forced labourers, and finally its being ruled responsible," said Yojiro.
The ruling signifies that the situation is improving for the victims, he added.
Yojiro took the verdict as a "historic stride," saying it was not only a matter of winning or losing the lawsuit, but also obtaining momentum for the final resolution of all other war-related cases.
About 40,000 Chinese citizens were forced to work for 35 corporations in Japan during World War II. Many never made it back home.
A total of 12 lawsuits have been filed in eight district courts in Japan by Chinese labourers and their relatives, but almost all have been rejected because of the statute of limitations, according to the Japanese lawyer.
A file photo shows Japanese soldiers enlisting Chinese who were then forced to work in Japan as slave labourers during World War II.
Just three days before the verdict at Niigata District Court was handed down, compensation demands from 13 Chinese citizens forcibly taken to Hokkaido to work for six Japanese companies during the war were turned down by Sapporo District Court.
The court ruled the Japanese Government and businesses shoulder no responsibilities despite acknowledging the plaintiffs were forced to be slave labourers at mines and other locations.
"This is the most unjust ruling in history since ... it reverses the trend of history and is intolerable," said Toru Takasaki, who represents the 13 plaintiffs. He also arrived in Beijing to meet the Chinese forced labourers over the weekend.
Around 16,000 Chinese citizens were forcibly taken to Hokkaido to work as slave labourers, with their ages ranging from 11 to 17. One in five failed to return to China because of inhuman treatment.
According to Zhao Zongren, 79, who worked in a coal mine in northern Japan, he had to work more than 12 hours a day but was given little food and clothing.
Japanese overseers often whipped them and many died of hunger or illness, Zhao said.
"We are all human beings and anybody who has knowledge of the tragic sufferings that the slave labourers went through during the war will become indignant, which is the reason that we Japanese lawyers offer to represent Chinese labourers," said Takasaki.
"More importantly, we hope militarism doesn't resurface in Japan since right-wing attitudes tend to prevail in our society nowadays. What we are doing, in the ultimate sense, is in our own interests," the 57-year-old lawyer added.
He said conservative forces in Japanese politics cover up the truth of wartime atrocities , which leaves Japanese people with a distorted knowledge of history from their textbooks.
"Most Japanese people know little about slave labourers, comfort women or the Nanjing massacre and they don't understand the damage that Japanese militarism wrought on Chinese, Korean and people in other Asian countries during World War II," Takasaki said.
"Even we didn't know all the truth before we handled these lawsuits," he added.
Lack of just voice
According to the Japanese lawyer, it is urgent to make historic truth known to the Japanese public.
Although many Japanese have called on the government to respect history, their voice seems too weak among the noises of conservative forces, Takasaki said.
Japanese lawyer Toru Takasaki (centre) talks with 79-year-old Wang Zian, who was forced to work in Japan as a slave labourer during World War II. [newsphoto]
"We need support from more Chinese and other Asian countries in a bid to win the lawsuits," he said.
Takasaki and Yojiro, together with three other Japanese lawyers and volunteers delivered speeches at China University of Politics and Law and Tsinghua University in Beijing on Friday to make more Chinese aware about the latest verdicts.
"The Japanese Government should acknowledge mistakes made in the war 60 years ago, which would be helpful in looking to the future for a good relationship between the two countries," Takasaki said in his speech.
When asked whether he felt pressure for handling the case for Chinese people, the Japanese lawyer said "no."
Many fair-minded Japanese tend to side with him after learning about the sufferings of Chinese labourers and they have donated money to support the lawsuits, according to Takasaki.
"Particularly after the victory at Niigata District Court, a lot of Japanese media covered the ruling and some added opinion articles stating that it's time for the Japanese Government to thoroughly solve the war compensation problems," he said.
According to Takasaki, a total of 300-odd Japanese lawyers have joined a group to deal with cases concerning compensation for the trauma Chinese citizens suffered during World War II.
In addition to the lawyers, ordinary Japanese have volunteered their support for Chinese forced labourers.
Takayama Hiromu, 63, a middle-school teacher in Niigata, heads a 300-plus-member association to show their support for the slave labourers that were forced to work in the local area.
He has collected large amounts of historical data concerning World War II and organized his colleagues and students to carry out investigations about the Nanjing massacre.
"I want to write down the historic truth and teach younger generations about what their predecessors did during the war and warn them against making similar mistakes in the future," Hiromu said.
Source: China Daily