The Japanese government has asked a major U.S. publisher to “correct” a textbook containing references to “comfort women” issues, the Foreign Ministry said.
Japanese diplomats petitioned McGraw-Hill to change passages in a book used in American schools.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, part of the book reads: “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as 200,000 women ages 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels, called ‘comfort houses.’ “
The daily Asahi Shimbun reported that the ministry thinks this passage contains factual errors, but the ministry has not officially commented on the corrections it requested.
The book also says the Japanese military “massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation,” according to the Wall Street Journal report.
“The Japanese government, through an overseas diplomatic office, in mid-December asked McGraw-Hill executives to make a correction to the content of a textbook titled ‘Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,’ ” according to a ministry statement published by the U.S. newspaper.
They did this “upon finding grave errors and descriptions that conflict with our nation’s stance on the issue of ‘comfort women.’ “
Mainstream Japanese historians say no historical records survived the war that can pin down the exact number of women forced to work at the wartime military brothels set up during Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s, and their estimates range from 20,000 to 200,000.
Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor of history at Chuo University in Tokyo and a leading researcher on the issue, estimates there were at least 50,000 comfort women, hypothetically assuming that one female was allocated for every 100 soldiers, and that some women were replaced, raising the total by more than 1.5 times.
Right-wingers in Japan dispute this, and insist the women were common prostitutes. They say neither the state nor the military was involved in any coercion.
The administration under nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a global campaign to right what it sees as the wrongs of global perceptions of Japan’s wartime violence.
McGraw-Hill Education confirmed it had been approached by “representatives from the Japanese government . . . asking the company to change the description of ‘comfort women’ in one of our publications,” according to the Journal.
“Scholars are aligned behind the historical fact of comfort women and we unequivocally stand behind the writing, research and presentation of our authors,” the publisher said.
Approaching a foreign publisher is unusual, but nationalists at home have pressed hard to get history reinterpreted.
Late last year, the liberal Asahi Shimbun retracted 18 articles from the 1990s centering on the testimony of a former Japanese soldier who said he was involved in rounding up Korean females to work in brothels. His testimony had long since been discredited, but the paper had for years resisted pressure to retract them.
Its about-face was greeted with glee by right-wingers, including Abe, who demanded the paper apologize for its part in the globally accepted view of Japan’s wartime record.
Tokyo has been angered in recent years over statues honoring comfort women erected by Korean communities in the U.S. and elsewhere.
And in December the government lodged a complaint with Beijing over a reference to “300,000” people who were murdered by Imperial troops in the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese city now called Nanjing, in a weeks-long orgy of rape and violence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping made the comment in a speech at the Nanjing Massacre memorial hall on Dec. 13, calling on Tokyo to acknowledge the gravity of its past crimes.
Diplomats protested that the figure is “different from Japan’s position” and that it is “difficult to determine the concrete number of victims,” sources told Kyodo News.
Since taking office 2012, Abe has pushed for what supporters call a less “masochistic” view of Japanese history.
While the approach is popular among core right-wing supporters in Japan, it does not have broad appeal in a public that feels largely disconnected from events more than seven decades ago.
It is also problematic for Tokyo’s chief ally, the U.S., which would far rather have Japan get past the issue and build better relations with its other key regional ally, South Korea.