In November 2018, The Japan Times published an Editor's Note announcing the paper's decision to change its description of "comfort women" and "forced labor."

However, the revised descriptions involving Japan's contentious wartime issues were inadequate. The note triggered criticism and confusion regarding The Japan Times' editorial policy, as well as spawning false speculation that the paper made the changes due to political pressure. The Japan Times has categorically denied this.

In response, The Japan Times promised to conduct a thorough review of the description and announce its conclusions.

As we conducted our internal review involving senior editorial managers and staff, we adhered to the following four principles to guide discussions:

  • To regard the issues as a violation of human rights;
  • To examine these issues objectively from various perspectives by reviewing a variety of reference materials and historical records;
  • Be open to the idea of revising our current description if it could be improved upon; and
  • To be concise and accurate

After rigorous internal discussion, The Japan Times editorial leadership unanimously agreed to further revise the paper's description of "comfort women," but maintain our description of "wartime labor." This was presented to and reviewed by all editorial staff. It is as follows:

'Comfort women'

Previously, The Japan Times described "comfort women" simply as "women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II."

However, this could mislead some to think that all comfort women were taken by the Japanese military and forced to provide sex. This is not accurate. The experiences of comfort women in different regions before and during World War II varied greatly.

In an attempt to better reflect this fact, The Japan Times in November 2018 revised its description of comfort women as "women who worked in wartime brothels — including those who did so against their will — to provide sex to Japanese soldiers."

In hindsight, the revised description was flawed.

First, it suggests we intended to downplay the suffering of these women. Second, it also suggests that the majority willingly became comfort women. Both were not what we intended.

To address this shortcoming, our baseline description of the comfort women henceforth will be changed to "women who were forced or coerced into Japan's wartime brothel system under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty." A shorter description will be "women who suffered under Japan's military brothel system before and during World War II."

'Wartime labor'

Previously, The Japan Times described all workers from the Korean Peninsula mobilized for wartime labor collectively as "forced laborers." However, this was misleading because the recruitment method and working conditions varied greatly.

Three types of Korean workers were mobilized for wartime labor:

  • Those hired by Japanese companies under the boshū (recruitment) system
  • Workers recruited — in some cases forcefully — from Korea under the kan-assen (government-coordinated) system
  • Those forced to work under the chōyō (conscription) system who faced imprisonment of up to one year or a fine if they refused to comply.

All three types of workers were compensated, but remuneration varied and some were not paid. Those recruited under the boshū and kan-assen systems were later forced to provide labor under the chōyō system.

To better reflect this fact, The Japan Times in November 2018 revised its general description of all three types of workers to "wartime labor" or "wartime laborers."

After further review, we have decided to maintain this description, although The Japan Times recognizes the need to quote historical compensation claims and court rulings verbatim.

The Japan Times continues to be committed to fair, accurate and transparent journalism.

The Japan Times Executive Editorial Committee