New Attack on the ‘Comfort Women’Roundup
tags: Japan, comfort women
Translated by Rumi Sakamoto and Matthew Allen. Rumi Sakamoto is Senior Lecturer in the School of Asian Studies, the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is the coeditor with Matthew Allen of Popular Culture, Globalization and Japan. They are both Asia-Pacific Journal contributing editors.
The Abe Cabinet continues its attempts to distort the ‘comfort women’ issue, making the most of Asahi Shimbun’s 5th August retraction of its past articles that employed the late Yoshida Seiji’s ‘testimonies.’
On the day that the retraction took place, Ishiba Shigeru, the then secretary-general of the LDP, reacted quickly, commenting that ‘examination [of Asashi reporting] in the Diet may be necessary,’ which in turn suggested the possible summoning of Asahi Shimbunexecutives before the Diet.
Later in October, when the Sankei Shimbun Bureau Chief in Seoul was indicted for defaming President Park Geun-hye, there was much criticism of the Korean government’s attempt to use its authority to intervene in the media. However, we need to remember that the LDP’s former secretary-general had also made the above statement that could be taken as intimidation directed at news media.
I would also like to point out that the Ishiba statement set up an entirely different, politically motivated issue, namely, ‘How do we resolve the nation’s suffering and sadness?’ This has also become a pet phrase of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. In an exclusive interview with the Yukan Fuji newspaper, Abe said that ‘[the ‘erroneous report’] made many people feel sad and suffer; it harmed Japan’s pride in the international community.’
On October 3rd, in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, Inada Tomomi, Chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council said, ‘because of the Yoshida testimonies Japan’s honour has hit rock bottom’ and explained that she would set up a special committee to examine the influence of the Yoshida ‘testimonies.’ To this the prime minster responded: ‘many people are hurt and saddened, and Japan’s image has been seriously damaged.’ He went on to say, ‘unwarranted defamations are taking place throughout the world, and they are the products of erroneous reporting.’
However, as Shukan Kin’yobi has pointed out on many occasions, Asahi’s ‘erroneous report’ has had only marginal relevance to the understanding of the overall picture of the Japanese military ‘comfort women,’ and its influence on the international community is negligible.
‘Forced Relocation’ (Kyosei renko1) Did Take Place
From the Opposition parties, one of the first responses to the Asashi article came from Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka city. This is not surprising, considering that as the head of the former ‘Nippon ishin no kai (Japan Restoration Party)’ he had made a statement that Japanese military ‘comfort women’ were ‘necessary,’ sending his party into political decline.
In a press conference held in his office on August 8th he boasted that ‘if, in any small way, my previous comments had prompted (Asashi’s correction), then personally that’s more than I can hope for as a politician.’ Further, Mayor Hashimoto harshly criticised Asashi’s response that other newspapers also confused the ‘comfort women’ with teishintai(volunteer corps) or used the Yoshida ‘testimony’ in their reports, saying that ‘reading it [the Asahi response] I felt uncomfortable. They are justifying themselves.’
But didn’t mayor Hashimoto himself justify the Japanese military, by saying that women like the ‘comfort women’ also existed in other countries?
Yamada Hiroshi, a member of the House of Representatives and the secretary-general of Jisedai no to (The Party for Future Generations), a split-off party from Nippon ishin no kai, has for some time been demanding the retraction of the Kono Statement; but this time round he began to insist that it was problematic that Kono Yohei (the then Chief Cabinet Secretary) refered to ‘forced relocation’ in a press conference at the time of the Kono Statement (for example, Sankei October 20th).
On this point, the current Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide has also expressed his agreement in the House of Councillors Committee on Cabinet on the 21st October: ‘We reject that point [the reference to ‘forced relocation’ made by Mr. Kono, the former Chief Cabinet Secretary], and as the government, we have been making a strong appeal to restore honour and trust in Japan.’ This means that the denial of ‘forced relocation’ has become the government’s official position. The next morning, Chosun Online (the online site of the South Korean Chosun Daily) reported, ‘this is the first time that Mr Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, clearly rejected the statement of the former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Kono.’ It is highly likely that this will stir up further concern outside Japan from now on.
However, the understanding of ‘forced relocation’ – not only among Japanese researchers and the advocacy organisations for the victims but from international perspectives too – does not rely on Yoshida’s ‘testimony,’ as ‘forced relocation’ refers to the sending of women to the ‘comfort stations’ against their will, either by deceiving them about the nature of their employment, coaxing them into cooperating, or simply through human trafficking. It is also clear that in areas under Japanese occupation there were cases of ‘forced relocation’ in the sense that Abe has used the term ‘kidnapping,’ where direct violence and threat were used.
The more the prime minister and the rightists insist on denying the ‘forced relocation,’ the more isolated they will become in the international community because of their distorted understanding of the ‘comfort women’ issue.
Prime Minister Abe, when he appeared on an NHK programme on September 14th, stated that because of the ‘erroneous report’ of AsashiShimbun, the international community perceived it as a ‘fact’ that ‘Japanese soldiers went in people’s homes as if they were kidnappers, abducted children and made them into ‘comfort women,’ and that because of this, many monuments of the ‘comfort women’ have been erected in various places.’
However, it was not until October 2010, that is much later than the reporting of the Yoshida ‘testimonies,’ that the first ‘comfort women’ monument was erected in Palisades Park in the US. Ironically, this was prompted by the criticisms in the US of Mr. Abe’s 2007 statement during his first term as prime minister that ‘no document was found that confirms coercion in a narrow sense.’ Indeed, the word ‘abduct,’ which is used in the inscription on the monument is a verb that includes kidnapping victims by deception.
Also in 2007, while visiting the US, Mr. Abe was pressed on the issue of the ‘comfort women’ in a joint press conference with the then president George W. Bush, and responded: ‘I do have heartfelt sympathies that the people who had to serve as comfort women were placed in extreme hardships and had to suffer that sacrifice, and that I, as prime minister of Japan, express my apologies, and also express my apologies for the fact that they were placed in that sort of circumstance.’ But Mr. Abe now says that the ‘comfort women’ issue is ‘unfounded defamation.’ Is he still able to say today what he said seven years ago?
On the other hand, the government has already taken the first concrete step towards the denial of ‘forced removal.’ It was revealed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had removed the ‘Appeal for Donations for the Asian Women’s Fund’ from the MOFA homepage. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga explained in a press conference on October 15th that the homepage was reorganised because it contained a mixture of government and non-government documents. But the removal was prompted by a question in the House of Representatives Budget Committee by the aforementioned Mr Yamada, a member of the House of Representatives, on the following phrase in the Appeal: ‘the act of forcing women, including teenagers, to serve the Japanese armed forces as ‘comfort women.’ The government’s intention is obvious.
In fact, the Press Secretary of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has criticised the deletion in the Appeal, saying that it undermines the credibility of the Kono Statement.
The LDP’s move is even more blatant. The LDP Committee on Reevaluation of Global Information Strategy Headquarters for Regional Diplomatic and Economic Partnership (chair: Harada Yoshiaki) on September 19th adopted a resolution on the ‘comfort women.’ This resolution, which reads ‘the “forced relocation” of the so-called “comfort women” is rejected as a fact, and so is sexual abuse [italics by the author],’ not only denies the responsibility of the Japanese military but also rejects the violation of human rights at the ‘comfort stations’ itself. This is an extreme example of the type of absurd argument that reduces everything to having a basis in the ‘erroneous report’ of the Yoshida ‘testimonies.
In addition, the LDP’s Special Advisor to the President, Hagiugo Koichi, appeared on a TV programme on October 6th and said of the Kono Statement that, ‘while it will not be reviewed, announcing a new statement will make it irrelevant.’ But if the government produces a new statement with regressive content, such a statement will surely be regarded as a de facto rejection of the ‘Kono Statement’. There is no way they can avoid domestic and international criticisms if they act in such a dishonest manner.
These moves of the government and the ruling party not only prevent any improvement of Japan-Korea relations but also inflict a second victimisation on the victims of Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, who are still living in many parts of the world. We should never forget this.
Recommended citation: Nishino Rumiko and Nogawa Motokazu with an introduction by Caroline Norma, The Japanese State’s New Assault on the Victims of Wartime Sexual Slavery. The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 51, No. 2, December 22, 2014
1 Translators’ note: We have chosen to use ‘forced relocation’ as the English translation of the original term ‘kyosei renko’ in this article. For a detailed description of this phrase, see Yoshiko Nozaki’s 'The “Comfort Women” Controversy: History and Testimony.’
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