Japanese historians seek revision of U.S. textbook over ‘comfort women’ depiction


Staff Writer

A group of 19 Japanese historians and scholars plan to file a protest with U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill, claiming a history textbook it published in 2011 contains a number of “factual errors” on the “comfort women” issue.

Comfort women is a euphemism used in Japan to refer to women and girls who were forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels during the 1930s and 1940s.

The group, represented by historian Ikuhiko Hata, said the number of women cited in the book — 200,000 — is too large.

Hata, a professor emeritus at Nihon University and a noted expert on Japanese military history, estimates the number at about 20,000.

The group also said the textbook’s assertion that Japanese soldiers “massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation” is not supported by any historical evidence.

If Japanese soldiers massacred comfort women, the postwar Tokyo Tribunals or other war crime trials for officers of lower rank would have addressed such incidents, the group said, but there are no records of any such massacres.

The textbook, titled “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” was co-authored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley.

“The sentences (on comfort women) are written in 26 lines. I’ve never seen such a short text that contains so many errors,” Hata said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Hata told The Japan Times on Wednesday that the group will soon send a letter requesting “corrections” to McGraw-Hill.

The Foreign Ministry has already complained to the publisher over the textbook, although it has not made public what specifically it called “grave errors” on comfort women in the book.

The textbook states “the Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty to serve in military brothels.” It also says a majority of the comfort women were Koreans and Chinese.

Hata said that of his estimate of 20,000, he believes Japanese accounted for about 8,000 and made up the largest segment, followed by Koreans at 4,000.

According to him, as of 1943 about 1 million Japanese soldiers were deployed overseas excluding Manchukuo, in present-day northeastern China, where Hata believes the army mainly used state-regulated private brothels instead of “comfort stations.”

If there had been 200,000 comfort women, and each serviced five soldiers a day — as was cited in one U.S. military document — Japanese soldiers would have spent so much time in the brothels that they would had little room to engage in combat or any other activity, Hata argued.

No records or other historical material have been found to show the number or nationalities of comfort women, although media reports have often quoted estimates of 100,000 to 200,000.

Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a leading historian on the topic, argues that there were at least 50,000 comfort women, assuming one female was allocated for every 100 troops.

The group of Japanese scholars also claimed the military did not directly recruit the comfort women, and that this was mainly done by private-sector brokers.

As far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned, mainstream historians, including Yoshimi, agree that it was private-sector brokers, not the Japanese government or military, that mainly recruited the women, as claimed by the group.

But in China, the Philippines and Indonesia, many women were forcibly taken by Japanese soldiers to military brothels and were forced to work there.

Today, the government argues such incidents were isolated crimes by individuals, not committed by the Japanese military or the government because these actions were not based on any orders.

Meanwhile, left-leaning historians say that the victims in China and Southeast Asia were also “forcibly recruited” by the Japanese military.

The comfort women issue has long been a thorny topic between South Korea and Japan, and continues to draw emotional reactions from various quarters.

After the Foreign Ministry complained to McGraw-Hill, 19 U.S.-based historians slammed the ministry and supported the authors for refusing to revise their descriptions.

“We support the publisher and agree with author Herbert Ziegler (who wrote the comfort women section) that no government should have the right to censor history,” the group wrote in February in a letter to the editor in the March edition of the scholarly journal Perspectives on History.

Yoshimi believes about half of the comfort women were Korean, citing one Imperial army document on sexually transmitted diseases among Japanese soldiers in China up to 1940, which breaks down the females who infected them according to their nationality.

The document states that Koreans accounted for 51.8 percent, Chinese 36 percent and Japanese 12.2 percent. Yoshimi believes most of them were comfort women.

  • Ron NJ

    Seems their efforts would be better spent ensuring that their own government is even bothering to select textbooks that include appropriate mention and explanation of the Nanking massacre and sexual slavery systems at all rather than going after a foreign publisher over what, as far as I can tell, can only be a matter of pride given that they’re just splitting hairs over numbers.

    Sadly it’s all very typical – they perceive Japan as being attacked by outside forces and thus rally to defend Japan’s honor, but either don’t want to shatter the illusion that exists within Japan that Japan was a victim rather than a belligerent in the war, or just refuse or can’t be bothered to turn those same sights that they’ve set on McGraw Hill inwards and do serious self criticism of their domestic education system and its myriad deep flaws when it comes to World War 2 education. Either way you cut it, it’s not pretty, and a sad state of affairs.

  • Testerty

    This is the difference between Japanese and German….

  • Liars N. Fools

    I think the Prentice Hall textbook should be revised. There should be a new line that says “The spectacular transformation of imperialist Japan into a peaceful, prosperous, democratic nation in the latter half of the twentieth century was somewhat marred by right wing leaders in the early twenty-first century who wanted to ‘restore the honor’ of the militarists who ruled Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.'”

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    So sad that the Japanese have gone down this road. The Germans have made such impressive steps in addressing war crimes in comparison. This is devastating Japan’s image internationally.

  • timefox

    It’s natural to criticize an unenlightened American.

    The American government is talking about them as a professional camp follower or prostitute, not a sexual slave.

  • 151E

    Unfortunately, no side in this contest of pedantry will ever be able to prove specifics as to numbers and nationalities since, at the close of the war, the Japanese Army, Navy, and Imperial Household Ministry, all ordered any sensitive documents to be burned. Now why would they have done that?

  • Franklin124

    Hey Japanese scholars…thanks for alerting me about the existance of this book. I will be sure to use it in all my classes from this point on.

  • batbrewer

    From the Wikipedia page on Hata:

    “Historian Chunghee Sarah Soh notes that Hata had put the total number of comfort women at 90,000 in 1993 but he later revised the number downward because of “his political alignment with the conservative anti-redress camp in Japan that emerged in the latter half of the 1990s”.[43]
    Hata, who supports the retraction of the Kono Statement on comfort women, was the only historian appointed to the committee established by the government of Shinzo Abe to “re-examine” the statement.[51]”

  • Steve Jackman

    “The group of Japanese scholars also claimed the military did not directly recruit the comfort women, and that this was mainly done by private-sector brokers.”

    It makes no difference if a person in Japanese military uniform directly recruited these poor women or the military hid behind a third party such as private-sector brokers to give itself plausible deniability. The end result is the same and cowardly hiding behind a third-party does not absolve the Japanese military of such crimes.

    In fact, anyone who knows how things operate in Japan knows that the Japanese authorities (government, corporations, judiciary, etc.) often hide behind private third parties to get their dirty deeds accomplished, so they always have plausible deniability. This is also why the Japanese authorities give their tacit approval to the Yakuza and its network, since they use the criminal organizations’ services to commit their own illegal acts.

  • MTC

    Those who want to bash the Japanese people will keep doing so whatever counter-arguments these academics present. Just like those who want to bash the Chinese people will just keep doing so. Or just like those who want to bash Muslims will just keep doing so. Or just like those who want to bash the Israelis.. Hate, is the keyword here. “I care for human rights of…” is very often merely a pretense.

  • johnniewhite

    So Professor Yoshimi is the most reliable scholar on this topic? It is true that his views represent that of Japanese left-wing activists, and that the 19/20 American history professors as well as the governments of Korea and China support them. But that is nothing to do with the credibility of his views. Professor Hata is a more highly regarded scholar as historian than Prof. Yoshimi.