Many voices join in battle over ‘comfort woman’

Nationwide debate over “comfort women” will probably not end soon. Did wartime Japanese authorities really abduct Korean women for sex slavery, and is it the key question? Should school textbooks cover the issue and should Japan alone be mentioned regarding such practices?

Historical revisionists first gained momentum after last summer when it was reported that junior high school textbooks would mention the comfort women for the first time. The antirevisionist camp, which claims Japan was in the wrong, became more active after this. Venues for the debate include the media, Internet and symposiums.

The primary players are scholars and intellectuals. But many others have joined the fray, which has led to a lawsuit regarding the textbook revision, local-level assembly members taking action against the books, the formation of antirevisionist groups and an editorial cross fire between major newspapers.

Results of this year’s textbook screening by the Education Ministry, to be released next month, may further fuel the debate, depending on the approved contents regarding comfort women, the euphemism for women mostly from Japanese-occupied parts of Asia who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during the war. Both sides of the debate agree there were such women at “comfort facilities,” but they sharply disagree on whether it was prostitution or slavery and whether Japanese authorities were responsible for the plight of these women.

Some people, including University of Tokyo Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, claim Korean agents were responsible for making deals with the women’s parents or deceiving the women while recruiting. He also claims such business practices were common in those days, and it is wrong to apply today’s social values to such activities.

Others, including Chuo University Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, claim Japan violated international law because its army established and controlled comfort facilities. No matter how the women were recruited, forcing them, including minors, into sexual slavery must be condemned, according to Yoshimi.

Japanese-language World Wide Web sites discussing the issue include Yoshirin Watch at http://www.wink.co.jp/ yosirinwatch/kaigisitu. This Japan-was-not-wrong site has its mutually acknowledged counterpart in the Japan-was-wrong camp, which is called Jugun Ianfu Mondai Johoshitsu, or Information Room on Military Comfort Women http://www.saesparam. com/jugun/. Yoshirin Watch was created by supporters of Yoshinori Kobayashi, a charismatic cartoonist and founding member of the Group to Make New History Textbooks, which since December has been demanding that the Education Ministry delete textbook descriptions of the comfort women. Kobayashi has made arguments similar to Fujioka’s in his cartoons in the biweekly magazine Sapio. In the past, he focused on contentious issues like the cult Aum Shinrikyo and the HIV infection of hemophiliacs through contaminated blood products.

Two major newspapers, each with a circulation of several million, recently clashed on the issue. On March 31, the daily Asahi Shimbun, which is considered liberal, used its front page, an editorial and two other full pages to summarize past findings, concluding that the Imperial Japanese Army was “deeply involved” in sex slavery. The feature included an interview with former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who stated in 1993 that comfort women from the Korean Peninsula were recruited, transferred and controlled “generally against their will.”

The Sankei Shimbun, a conservative national daily, immediately responded in its own editorial, saying the Asahi effectively admitted errors in its reports that the Japanese army conducted “slave hunting” to find comfort women. The Sankei also said testimony by 16 former comfort women, which led to the 1993 Kono statement, were not backed up by evidence.

The Education Ministry plans to announce in late June newly approved high school textbooks for next spring. Textbooks are screened every four years and last year’s process dealt with junior high school textbooks. Many of the new textbooks will reportedly have more detailed descriptions of comfort women than before, including testimony from the victims.

Nobuyoshi Takashima, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus who recently debated with Fujioka in the May 24 issue of the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai, is optimistic from an antirevisionist stand point. “Current high school textbooks already mention comfort women,” leaving no room to protest anew, Takashima said. “Besides, Mr. Fujioka has admitted in Shukan Gendai that textbooks aren’t everything in class.”