At a press conference on December 23, 2001 during the leadup to the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, Japanese emperor Akihito made a series of remarkable statements concerning Korea.
First, he admitted that he felt "a certain kinship with Korea" which was due to the Japanese imperial family being, in part, descended from Koreans:
I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the 'Shoku Nihongi' (Chronicles of Japan, compiled in 797), that the mother of Emperor Kammu (reign 781-806) was of the line of King Muryong (reign 501-523) of the Kingdom of Paekche.
Note: Paekche is one of three kingdoms of ancient Korea, said to have existed from 18 B.C. to 660 A.D.
Second, after stating that he appreciated the culture and technology brought to Japan from Korea, he appeared to make reference to Japan's brutal colonisation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century when he added:
It is regrettable, however, that Japan's exchanges with Korea have not all been of this kind. This is something that we should never forget.
Coming from a Japanese person, these statements are shocking enough in that they contradict conventional Japanese notions of their racial uniqueness, as well as addressing Japan's colonial excursions in a negative light. However the fact that they are coming from the very top - the Japanese emperor - makes them all the more amazing. Go Akihito!
Unfortunately, other than in the Asahi Shimbun, these comments were not considered newsworthy by the Japanese media, although they received considerable coverage elsewhere, particularly in South Korea.