Despite Japan's refusal to pay individual foreigners for suffering during World War II, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's coalition Wednesday approved special payments of about $1,000 apiece for as many as 280,000 relatives of victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.
The decision was reached by the ruling group's "war-end 50th anniversary special projects committee," consisting of members of Murayama's Socialist Party and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Party Harbinger.
"Funeral rite payments," which will be made in the form of 100,000-yen ($1,042 at the current exchange rate) bonds redeemable in two years, will be given to relatives of people who died between 1945 and 1969 as a result of the bombings and who themselves were exposed to the bomb blasts.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi estimated that as many as 280,000 people who hold government certificates verifying that they were in the two cities when the bombs were dropped will be eligible to receive the payments.
Since 1969, the government has made "funeral rite payments" for deaths only.
The decision marked the first time the Socialists' partners have yielded to them since the Socialists, once the perennial opposition, started joining coalition Cabinets in August, 1993. Murayama reportedly regarded approval of the payments as essential to convincing his own party of the benefits of belonging to a coalition.
During their 38 years of unilateral rule, the Liberal Democrats consistently opposed Socialist demands for the special compensation for fear of spurring demands from relatives of other Japanese who were killed during the war.
This time, they yielded on the condition that a bill to be submitted to the current session of Parliament spell out the "double suffering" of losing a relative and being exposed to radiation as the reason for the measure. At the insistence of the Liberal Democrats, the Socialists dropped a demand to call the payments "state compensation"--phrasing that LDP conservatives said would be tantamount to admitting that Japan was responsible for launching the war.
On Aug. 31, Murayama announced that Japan will commit $1 billion over the next 10 years to a "war contrition" program aimed at foreign countries that will include historical research on World War II by Japanese and foreign scholars and support of international programs for the advancement of women.
Igarashi at that time reiterated that no official payments will be made to foreign individuals but mentioned that the government might help establish a private fund of as much as $100 million for individual payments, especially to Asian women--as many as 200,000 by unofficial estimates--recruited as "comfort women" for Japanese troops during the war.
No new moves to compensate foreigners have been reported since then.
Officials said Wednesday that Koreans certified to have been in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the bombs were dropped and who lost a relative in the bombings or because of illnesses from radiation between 1945 and 1969 will be eligible for the new payments.