Former Asahi reporter files libel suit over ‘comfort women’ issue


Staff Writer

Bashed and threatened for months by right-wingers and history revisionists, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter made a rare appearance in Tokyo Friday to file a libel suit against a major publisher and a noted scholar of Korean studies.

Takashi Uemura is seeking ¥16.5 million in damages from Bungeishunju Ltd. and Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University, saying they erroneously claimed he fabricated stories about “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the thousands of women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels

At a news conference, Uemura said their “unfounded slander” prompted some anonymous nationalists to threaten his employer, and violated the privacy of his family by posting a photo of his daughter on the Internet.

“I filed the libel suit in the Tokyo District Court to defend the human rights of me, my family and friends of my family as well as the safety of my employer, Hokusei Gakuen University” in Sapporo, Uemura said at the news conference, held in district court.

Uemura became in 1991 the first reporter to write about the first South Korean woman to come out under her real name and acknowledge she had been a comfort woman.

In its Feb. 6 edition last year, Bungeishunju’s weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, quoted Nishioka as saying that Uemura “fabricated a story” that the woman in question was “forcibly taken” to a military brothel as a member of the Teishin-tai (Volunteer Corps).

Nishioka was quoted in the article as saying that the Teishin-tai was in fact organized by Japanese authorities to have women work in factories, not military brothels, so “it is not too much to say (that the article by Uemura) is a fabricated story.”

According to Uemura, at that time former comfort women in South Korea were generally described as former-Teishin-tai members, and all major Japanese media outlets used that term.

Uemura said that in his article, he wrote that the woman in question was “tricked into becoming a comfort women,” not that she was violently kidnapped by Japanese authorities, as Nishioka stated.

The Shukan Bunshun article prompted many anonymous people to threaten Kobe Shoin Women’s University, which was set to hire Uemura as a professor.

He said the school urged him to voluntarily cancel the employment contract, and he eventually agreed.

Uemura was later hired by Hokusei Gakuen University as a lecturer. The Sapporo-based university also received numerous anonymous threats urging that Uemura be fired.

In a faxed statement, Bungeishunju said it has “full confidence in its report.” A comment from Nishioka was not immediately available.

Uemura has been a target of history revisionists and right-wingers who try to play down Japan’s responsibilities for the suffering of the comfort women. Many of them claim Uemura wrote his articles because his wife is a South Korean whose mother was a member of an association of South Korean war victims.

But Uemura countered that he was covering comfort women issues as an Asahi reporter before he met his future wife in South Korea, and that his mother-in-law knew nothing of the comfort woman in question until his story was published.

“People are criticizing me because I’m the first person to bring the existence of comfort women to light before (these women) came out in public” and used their real names, Uemura said.

Some erroneous reports on the comfort women and the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have rocked Asahi, which is generally considered a liberal daily. Former President Tadakazu Kimura stepped down last month.

  • VerityHeld

    To those who criticize and threaten this man: pay attention. By denying what happened, you cheapen and tarnish the soul of Japan. Sex slavery did happen, denying it is the same as approving it.

  • leconfidant

    If they were confident they had nothing to hide, they would welcome a thorough examination of the facts. This behavior signals not so much that they are wrong, but that they know they are wrong, and that they would rather hide their crime than apologise for it. It’s absolutely shameful. If they’re trying to make Japan shine in the eyes of the world, it kind of has precisely the opposite effect. We do not expect anyone to be ready to change their behavior until they can admit what they did.

  • Richard Solomon

    The attacks on this newspaper writer are but one aspect of a campaign by the nationalists and PM Abe to deny the culpability of the Japanese military and government for the creation of comfort women during WW II. Abe’s hand picked director of NHK has instructed its reporters not to use the term ‘sex slaves’ in any reporting it does on this issue. The attempts to deny this issue is one of the causes of the deterioration in Japan’s relations with China and S Korea. We shall see how forthcoming Abe’s statements are next summer when he comments on 70th anniversary of the end of WW II.

  • labjmh

    Every time when I read such news, I can’t help coming to the conclusion: There is no such thing as freedom of speech in Japan!

  • johnniewhite

    Mr Uemura should hold a press conference where both views of his articles (that (1) he only made minor errors that are not intended, or (2) he fabricated his history to engage in Japan bashing or earning money from it) are fairly aired. Where he held this conference — Foreign Press Club in Tokyo — is basically interested to hear the views of Asahi Shimbun, and not the other side of conservative viewpoint.

  • Ahojanen

    It’s an interesting case though I am afraid this libel claim won’t stand. For Uemura had been given a great deal of times and opportunities to explain and defend his position publicly. Even the publisher Bungeishunju asked him for interviews in several occastions before going more “offensive.”

    What Uemura had acually done is just keep fleeing and missing (willfully?) these opportunites for clarification, much in his own term or favor. He had chosen to remain silent. Then all of a sudden he’s filing a lawsuit. A crucial question may be posed at court, “Why he’s been doing almost nothing but just waiting sooooo long until he finally became the target of defametion?”

    Note that I strongly oppose any form of threats or defamation (if proven such). Yet it can also be said that Uemura’s escape is primarily responsible for threats and harrasments towards him or his family. Again at the beginning he’s got many chances to correct misreports, turn it around by himself. He failed.

  • Peninsula2Today

    This is a problem. Japan cannot sweep WW.II past under the rug. They cannot deny wrong doing. Truth will always prevail. When it does. Truth is going to hurt Japan!!!!!!!!!!

  • doriru keisan

    “People are criticizing me because I’m the first person to bring the existence of comfort women to light before (these women) came out in public” and used their real names, Uemura said.

    These words of Uemura are audible so that he pushes the reality away.His explanation cannot persuade a Japanese.