‘Comfort women’ issue refuses to go away

Nationalists using Asahi errors as ammo against 1993 apology


Staff Writer

“Comfort women,” as Japan refers to the females who were forced into sexual servitude for the nation’s wartime forces, have been a constant source of controversy since the early 1990s, when the media started to take a serious look at their ordeal.

These women have recently again become a focus of debate in Japan, helping to fuel a diplomatic row with South Korea amid speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might be trying to rewrite history.

The Japan Times looked into some of the details pertaining to the comfort women issue in an FYI article on March 13, 2013, (www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/03/13/reference/in-abes-future-a-nationalist-rewrite-of-the-past/)

What is the main focus of the recent debate in Japan? What details have been confirmed or at least agreed upon? Following are questions and answers on the latest controversy surrounding the comfort women:

Why has the issue again become a hot topic in Japan?

In August, the Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper that in the 1990s extensively covered the comfort women issue, admitted that 16 articles published in the 1980s and ’90s on the comfort women contained erroneous elements and retracted them.

The Asahi’s articles centered on accounts provided by Seiji Yoshida, who claimed he had kidnapped hundreds of Korean females and forced them to work in military brothels.

Japanese historians had already concluded in the late 1990s that Yoshida’s claims contained apparent falsehoods, based on the testimony of Korean residents who denied Yoshida’s story. The retracted Asahi articles added no fresh evidence for experts, activists and journalists who have followed the legacy of the comfort women.

But the Asahi’s retraction gave political ammunition to nationalistic, right-leaning lawmakers and media outlets who deny that Japan should be held responsible for the comfort women’s suffering.

Nationalists have long been frustrated by the government’s 1993 apology for the comfort women ordeal.

Many members of the Japanese public, particularly young people, have also been displeased over recent efforts by South Korean citizens to build memorials and statues dedicated to the comfort women. Korean residents of the United States have been particularly conspicuous in this movement.

Critics have thus played up the Asahi’s admission as key proof of their contention that neither the Japanese military nor Japanese authorities were directly involved in the forceful recruitment of females to work in military “comfort stations.”

Are the nationalists right in claiming that the Japanese military and authorities did not directly force females into sexual servitude?

Most Japanese historians agree that as far as what is today’s South Korea is concerned, private-sector brokers there, not the Japanese military and government authorities, mainly rounded up the females while Japan was at war in the 1930s and ’40s.

Nationalists may be technically correct to an extent on this point, although some women from South Korea have claimed they were forcibly taken to the brothels by Japanese authorities.

But historical records have shown that the civilian brokers — who were usually selected by the Japanese military — often rounded up Korean females against their will through deception and via human trafficking.

The comfort stations were set up at the instruction of the Japanese military, which regarded them as “logistical facilities” to provide “comfort” to wartime forces.

Thus many Japanese historians, Western media and South Koreans argue that the Japanese military and administrative authorities should be held directly responsible for the victims’ plight.

In other parts of Asia, including China, the Philippines and Indonesia, it is believed that the Japanese military directly “recruited” the victims and forced them to work in military brothels, at least in some cases.

What is the official position of the Abe Cabinet?

Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga are the only ministers who represent the Cabinet to discuss sensitive history-related issues. Other ministers are only allowed to repeat the official administration view.

Abe and Suga have said repeatedly that the Cabinet upholds the 1993 government apology issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono (www.mofa.go.jp/policy/women/fund/state9308.html) Before taking the prime ministership in December 2012, Abe had suggested he might revise the Kono statement.

Abe has also said he is “deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors.”

However, when urged to reaffirm the Kono statement with their own words, the two have never elaborated, only repeating that they uphold the apology. And they have often stressed their belief that the Japanese military and authorities did not directly abduct females to work in the comfort stations.

This attitude has made Japan watchers overseas suspect that Abe is trying to minimize Japan’s overall responsibility for the comfort women legacy by focusing on what they can technically deny.

During an Oct. 21 Upper House session, Suga was asked by Yoshiki Yamashita of the Japanese Communist Party to reconfirm key points admitted in the Kono statement, including “in many cases (the victims) were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.”

Suga only said Abe’s Cabinet upholds the 1993 apology. Then he emphasized that the Kono statement did not admit that the females were taken to the brothels through “kyosei renko.”

Kyosei renko is a formal Japanese term that means “taking someone somewhere against the person’s will.” But in the government’s terminology, it means an organized abduction by the Japanese military or government, officials said.

Suga pointed out that Kono, during a news conference to announce the statement, verbally admitted victims were recruited through kyosei renko.

“We considered (Kono’s verbal admission) a big problem,” Suga said.

What other comfort women controversies are getting attention?

Many right-leaning politicians and commentators claim several assertions coming out of South Korea have been exaggerated, and some of their arguments are still subject to hot debate in Japan.

Japanese nationalists argue the comfort stations were no different from state-regulated brothels that existed in many other parts of the world, including in Japan, before and during the war years.

Thus they say that phrases like “sex slaves” and “sexual slavery,” which are widely used by Western media, go too far to describe the comfort women system. Some even insist most comfort women were professional prostitutes.

Earlier this month, the government also demanded that Radhika Coomaraswamy, former special rapporteur on violence against women at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, revise her 1996 report on the comfort women. The report, which concluded that the comfort women system should be described as “military sexual slavery,” mentioned Yoshida’s accounts of kidnapping numerous Korean females.

Many Japanese historians, including Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a leading expert on issues pertaining to the comfort women, maintain that the terms “sex slaves” and “sexual slavery” are appropriate because the victims in general were not allowed to quit the forced prostitution and their working conditions were harsh.

South Korean citizens’ groups often stress that about 200,000 females were forced to serve in the brothels, but some Japanese historians say this number is exaggerated.

No historical materials have been found to pin down the exact number of females forced into the brothels, historians say.

Yoshimi, a professor of history at Chuo University in Tokyo, estimated there were at least 50,000 comfort women, hypothetically assuming one female was allocated for every 100 Japanese soldiers, and some of those women were replaced to increase the total number by more than 1.5 times.

  • Testerty

    The entire world confirmed the Japanese military engaged in sex slavery (aka comfort women), except the Japanese. Who do you believe?

    • johnniewhite

      That’s not fair. It is a fairer to ask “the entire world has not yet admitted that they used comfort women or raped local women at war except Japanese; the entire world just want to accuse Japanese for having the comfort women system, as if to use them as scapegoat.” isn’t it?

      • Testerty

        The entire world agrees the Japanese did not use prostitutes but engages in military sex slavery. The definition is based on UN ruling and, fortunately, not based on Japanese unilateral definition. You can deny, but cannot change world’s opinion nor change history.

      • johnniewhite

        You know that UN is being asked to review the statement. Japan is saying that revision is necessary as new and important facts have come to light; they are not based on wishful desire. No matter how much one wishes Japanese to be bad and evil, evidence speaks for itself if and when one is prepared to reexamine the case fairly and objectively.

      • Testerty

        You should also know UN immediately reject the Japanese request for historical revision. That goes to show only the Japaneses is denying the evil deeds.

      • johnniewhite

        Yes, I know. But it puzzles me why Ms Coomaraswamy decided to act like that. Her 1996 report cited Seiji Yoshida’s evidence, stating that “he [Yoshida] confesses to having been part of slave raids in which, among other Koreans, as many as 1,000 women were obtained for ‘comfort women’ duties under the National Labor Service Association as part of the National General Mobilization Law.” This bit at least must be removed, because Yoshida’s stories were found to be untrue when Asashi Shimbun, the most powerful Japanese media who insisted on sticking to Yoshida’s testimony, finally admitted on 5 August 2014 that what Yoshida said was a lie.

        On 14 October, Ms Coomaraswamy rejected the request of Japanese government to remove this passage, saying apparently that the Yoshida reference was only one part of the evidence. But the passage is clearly referring to Yoshida’s testimony!

        So if Ms Coomaraswamy cannot make correct judgement of the evidence given in Yoshida’s testimony, how can we then trust her judgements on other evidence? I doubt if she is really qualified to do the job. The ball is on her side now.

      • Testerty

        It is because Mr. Yoshida never did not retract his statement about the comfort women. It is the newspaper that published the report that retracted their reports. The UN based on Mr. Yoshida report, not the newspaper’s. You, on the other hand is accusing Mr Yoshida of lying, but has no evidence of this.

      • johnniewhite

        What Mr Yoshia have said have been investigated by scholars and journalists, and found to be untrue. He also admitted in 1996 apparently saying “there is no benefit of writing the truth. As you know even newspapers publish the stories that hide the truth but includes their own opinion. One cannot help the inconsistencies [in everyone’s articles]”. I know you want to pay respect to Mr Yoshida for what he says, but do you really accept lies if it harms you and your reputation?

      • Testerty

        What Mr. Yoshida said was “disputed” by revisionists. His statement was never proven inaccurate nor evidence provided. It is “he says” vs “he says”. UN believed Mr. Yoshida’s statement is valid and truthful. You want to dispute UN, then give some evidence to show comfort women are prostitutes. You can’t, right?

      • johnniewhite

        Testerty, what do you want me to say? “You are right”, right?

        What do you mean by ‘revisionists’? Do you mean the people who attempt to change the establish account of history by contemptuously ignoring the past scholarship with the intent to deceive other people? Or those people who reinterpret the historical account with new and significant information that was not available to the previous scholars? From your argument, you use the term for the first meaning, whereas I use for the second meaning. Our discussion will not go anywhere if the fundamental premise is different.

        Mr Yoshida’s stories were discreditted by everyone who has a responsible voice in Japan. This includes Asahi Shimbun from 5 August 2014. Shimbun Akahata also conceded on 27 September 2014 at last. So in the world, Ms Coomaraswamy and Ms Testerty are among the very few people who still believe in the stories of Mr Yoshida. In other words, you are as great as Ms Coomaraswamy. Right! :)

      • Testerty

        The UN which represent the entire world believed in Mr. Yoshida’s report and UN rejected Japan’s application to revise the comfort women issue. You choose to ignore the fact. Well, all I can say to you is – “You can put your head back into the sand”. LOL.

      • johnniewhite

        Why can’t you discuss calmly with evidence and logic? Why do you rely on mockery? I feel sorry for you.

        All the facts I have provided for you were completely ignored….

      • Testerty

        What evidence? Please tell. Your evidence consist of somebody claiming Mr. Yoshida is wrong. That is not evidence. UN represent the world. Japan has to beg UN to revise history and was rejected. Why can’t you accept this with logic?

      • johnniewhite

        Evidence I am talking about is Yoshida’s admission that his stories were lies.

      • Testerty

        Yoshida never admit that. You are making up falsehood. It was the newspaper that published his report that retracted it. If you have that evidence you can use that with UN, but you didn’t.

      • johnniewhite

        Testerty, I have translated what he said for you earlier. Did you not read what I wrote?

        Source is Shūkan Shinchō published on May 29, 1996.

      • Maddog Blitz

        Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. Anyone that closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. His refusal to remember the inhumanity will prone to risks of new infection.

        akuin akka – 悪因悪果

      • Testerty

        That guy could not prove Yoshida has retracted his report but he insist UN should change their position just because some Japanese revisionists said so.

      • Maddog Blitz

        Not all Japanese are revisionists but they must resist the questioning of historical truth. Denial of facts and setting off of one category of victims against another as a ploy to redirect their sins. Revisionists wishes to reduce their guilt by saying that it wasn’t all that bad or not really as bad as other war atrocities is trying to defend the indefensible.

      • Testerty

        I doubt Japanese revisionists are out to “reduce” their guilt. They are saying there is no guilt and the victims are liars.

      • Maddog Blitz

        Valid but sad point.

      • johnniewhite

        It seems that all you want is Japanese to be evil forever and never to speak out apart from saying ‘sorry’. If this keeps you happy, then just believe in it. Be happy. There is no point to argue with you. You won’t read what I write anyway.

      • Testerty

        What you wrote is revisionist. Why should I allow you to change historical facts?

      • johnniewhite

        The discussion became circular. You seem unable to remember what is being discussed. I’m sorry for you!

      • Testerty

        We are talking about Japanese denial of the comfort women and your attempt at support the Japanese’s revision of this fact. Why is that circular or off topic?

      • Toolonggone

        That’s a misleading statement. What is the difference between prostitutes and sex slavery at that time? And how has it been changed in +60 years? I have never heard of any evidence that the stakeholders reached to the consensus on the issue.

      • Testerty

        You tell me what is your definition of prostitution vs sex slavery. Go on, let the world know you better.

      • Toolonggone

        Clearly, you’re acting like an orbit revolving around the moon. You have no clue what you are talking about.

      • Testerty

        You equate prostitution with sex slavery and I am the one in orbit? LMAO at you.

      • Toolonggone

        No. That’s not what I said. It is you who brought it up, but you are chirping around like a mocking bird.

        Speaking of non-sense. Keep spinning around until you run out of breath.

      • Max Inpains

        Entire world ? Could you plz name each of them because I would like to know who is saying such an thing with what tangible evidences.because like my younger step brother from KOREA he lies and he lies a lot so every time he tells story I ask him what is the evidences other wise he make up lies with out any shame or guilt of lying to people

    • Toolonggone

      Huh? Sorry. I have trouble getting your point.

    • JustAThought

      You should believe Japan, and not the other countries (AKA the United States) who are trying to cover for THEIR Korean prostitute usage. About a decade after WWII, Park Chung-Hee rounded up Korean women to act as prostitutes to American soldiers. There are all sorts of accounts on the internet of Korean women claiming that their government acted to their detriment. Therefore, it raises the question as to whether or not Koreans actually rounded up Koreans during WWII for the same purpose. In which case Japanese soldiers were complicit in the crimes that were perpetrated by another entity to begin with. But Japan apologized. If Abe wants to revise the apology, it is because of the evidence that the Japanese government was not the entity that initiated the sexual slavery. Abe will not rescind the part of the apology about the damages caused to these women by their ordeal. I am a woman of Japanese ancestry, and what I find disrespectful to Japan and to all women, whether they were “comfort women” or not, is that every other country wants to place blame on Japan alone, when there is also just as much information out there about American soldiers abusing Korean women, as well as Chinese soldiers abusing Korean women. In fact, it is the denial of these other countries that is most upsetting. I truly am hurt that these women had to be treated like objects, no matter what entity initiated this injustice.

      • Testerty

        The Japanese themselves said they engaged in sex slavery during WWII as per the Kono statement. You should believe the Japanese, right?

      • JustAThought

        Certain soldiers might have. What is your point? General Douglas MacArthur punished Japanese soldiers for their crimes after the war. Also, all but one soldier who had engaged in the Nanjing Massacre were put to death. The Japanese government is not proven to be the entity that ordered for these women to be rounded up. We should focus on these women who clearly need therapy for having been used as objects, regardless of who ordered for this to happen, and regardless of who participated in the crime against them.

      • Testerty

        The Kono Statement. Do you know what is that? It is not any body talking. It represent Japan. If you are not aware of the Kono Statement, please read up on it.

      • JustAThought

        Yes, I read the Kono statement, that’s why I don’t agree with what you are saying. You clearly misinterpreted it. Or maybe you’ve misunderstood what Abe is trying to say as of late. You know, the head of Asahi Shinbun apologized for giving this misleading information that seems to have caused all this uproar to begin with, and stepped down. Also, many Korean women have testified in favor of what I am trying to explain, and what Abe is trying to explain, but the South Korean government doesn’t broadcast THAT internationally. You seem very knowledgeable despite the way we disagree. I think you know what I’m saying. You see, it is my job to research things like this. There truly are no solid facts supporting the idea that it was the Japanese military itself that organized a brothel. (I should explain that I view all prostitution as a form of sexual slavery, whether the individual is willing or not, as I believe prostitution is wrong in general.) The Kono statement was a response to a book where one Japanese person claimed that he degraded women during the war. It was an apology, from Japan itself, for the horrors that these females underwent during the war at the hands of the Japanese military [in reference to individual soldiers]. Honestly, when Douglas MacArthur investigated, he found no such proof of a brothel organized by the Japanese government for it’s soldiers. I promise you that this is true. Otherwise Douglas MacArthur would have been happy to put the criminals to death, as he had done in other instances after WWII. If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you research the Korean War Comfort Women, and read some of their testimonies. Still, I hope you can find peace in your heart that, if any of these women were born in our modern times, they would never ever be treated with such cruelty in Japan today. I certainly wouldn’t allow such an atrocity.

      • Testerty

        I don’t need your agreement. You are a denier, despite the Kono Statement.

      • JustAThought


    • Max Inpains

      Entire world?could you name them all please with under what evidences? Thanks

  • KenjiAd

    I know I don’t count, but if any Korean person is reading this, please know that I, a Japanese national, feel really sorry for what happened to those women. I was born after the war but nonetheless, I feel ashamed of what Japan did to these women.

    I’m sure you often hear, perhaps even in this forum, many Japanese people making excuses for what happened, or even denying we did anything barbaric.

    Unfortunately, I can’t silence them all. They will not go away. Still, I want you to know that people like me do exist in Japan.

    • johnniewhite

      It is good to behave and be humble. That’s a very important moral value in Japan. Even if they do not commit the crime and cause the accident, Japanese are taught to say sorry, and apologize. That’s Japanese upbringing. It is the wisdom to stop developing any conflict.

      Unfortunately, this good behaviour is not understood by some other nations. Apologies are seen as weakness, and the target of attack.

      The Kono Statement was prepared in this spirit, and Korean government promised that they will never raise as issue if Japanese government apologizes. (The details are reported in the scrutiny of the process of preparing the Kono Statement in June 2014, the link of which is given in one of my other posts on this page.) Unfortunately, Korean government broke the promise, now asking Japanese government for another round of apologies. This is not on! Once it was settled, and it was settled. Compensations cannot be paid repeatedly whenever they like to reclaim.

    • Max Inpains

      Are you real Japanese or Korean Japanese?

  • Ahojanen

    South Korea is responsible for making this issue more complicated. They could have settled it by accepting Japan’s apology and reparation from AWF in the 1990s. Korean support groups rejected the offer, even threatened some former comfort women who had agreed on the settlement plan. If being serious and fair, JT should report this “dark side” story instead of publishing copy&paste writings on anti-Japanese campaigns.

    • JustAThought

      True, I agree with you.

  • timefox

    The Japan-ROK Basic Relations Treaty, the Kono discourse, an apology of the Prime Minister, the Asia aid fund.
    This problem is already ended between the Japanese government and the South Korean government.
    The South Korean government should just secure comfort women’s life.
    When the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese territory, what was the South Korean President’s father doing?

  • Toolonggone

    It’s usually right-wing politicians like Hashimoto, Ishihara, and nationalist sympathizers including some creepy anti-Korean hate group, who shoot off a barrel of non-sense from their mouths. Also important to note is that Korean government representatives have refused to engage in conversations on the records of historical event in their national soil during pre-colonization period, wartime and afterward for years. Remember that South Korea was reigned under military regime until 1987. The issue of Comfort Women didn’t came out until 1990. They should also be held accountable for covering up the facts crucial to the victims of sexual slavery for over several decades. Instead of making a thorough reflection on the past to reach out to the victims for genuine reconciliation, they chose to engage in a blame-game with Japan and wasted years by treating the issue as if it was good-vs-evil. Neither Japan nor South Korea seems to be aware that the issue is more complicated than that. It’s the matter of gender which both countries have a troubling history. You can’t simply bury it under a superficial treaty that was made 50 years ago.

    • johnniewhite

      One must not forget that it started with left-wing lawyers and journalists in Japan for their own agenda, which is later joined by anti-Japan activists in Korea. One by one their lies are exposed, as historians and journalists dig up archives of newspaper articles from the past. We must wait for historians to assess the evidence fairly and objectively, and not just jump to conclusion to blame politicians and activists from both sides.

      • Toolonggone

        Your description of context is correct, and I agree with your statement–except for politicians and activists. Unfortunately, they are causing more distractions and infusing tension. I have to say some Korean activists setting up bronze statues of Korean girls in Grendale and several cities in the US seem to be more interested in seeking confrontation than reconciliation. Their action will also create the risk of an unnecessary cultural tension between local Korean and Japanese community–especially those young generations who do not really know the historical conflict between the two nations. I’m not exactly sure how that will help conscientious activists and historians on both sides.

  • Max Inpains

    I was forced to work Korean guy’s warehouse for his car and motor cycle engines for three mothers while till his leases is up to evicted. he locked me up in the warehouse and he is telling me that he is Japanese but I can tell he speaks Korean with his friends and family.