More than 10,000 people are suing the country’s leading liberal newspaper over its coverage of the “comfort women” issue, which they say stained their reputations as Japanese nationals.
It is the latest salvo in the battle over Japan’s history, which pits an increasingly aggressive revisionist right wing against an ever-more cowed mainstream that accepts the country’s guilt over World War II atrocities.
The lawsuit was filed Monday against the Asahi Shimbun over articles it published in the 1980s and 1990s about the contentious issue of women forced into military brothels before and during the Pacific War.
The paper formally retracted 18 articles last year.
According to the suit filed with the Tokyo District Court, the plaintiffs, including researchers, journalists and lawmakers, are demanding ¥10,000 in compensation to each person, arguing that the newspaper “damaged Japanese people’s personal rights and honor.”
It also demands the paper run an ad to apologize for “spreading erroneous facts to international society.”
The left-leaning daily withdrew the 18 stories last August because they focused on testimony by Seiji Yoshida, a man who claimed to have participated in rounding up females for use as sex slaves by the Japanese military.
Japan euphemistically refers to these girls and women as the “ianfu,” or comfort women.
Yoshida, who has since died, said he had forcibly taken women on the island of Jeju, then under Japanese colonial rule and now part of South Korea, and forced them into sexual labor for Imperial Japanese troops before and during World War II.
On Aug. 5, the newspaper finally admitted that a review had determined Yoshida’s accounts were false.
“There is no evidence that Japanese authorities took comfort women forcibly,” the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit.
Of the Asahi Shimbun articles that used Yoshida as a source, the plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit that “they became the cause to globally spread the distorted history showing comfort women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military in an organized manner.”
The plaintiffs also said that “the Asahi has merely apologized to readers and made no efforts to restore the public’s honor in international society.”
Sophia University professor emeritus Shoichi Watanabe, who is leading the plaintiffs, told a news conference that he “feels angry as the Asahi makes Japanese people ashamed.”
Watanabe denies that the mass sexual slavery attributed to the Imperial Japanese military took place. He is also a leading figure among those who deny the bloody 1937 Nanking Massacre occurred.
The number of plaintiffs is expected to rise to around 13,000, the group said.
An Asahi official said the company will consider how to deal with the matter after examining the complaint thoroughly.