National / Media | DARK SIDE OF THE RISING SUN

The uncomfortable truth about ‘comfort women’

by Jake Adelstein

Question: How did you view those people (that you infected with bubonic plague and dissected while still alive)? Didn’t you have any feelings of pity?

Answer: None at all. We were like that already. I had already gotten to (a point) where I lacked pity. After all, we were already implanted with a narrow racism, in the form of a belief in the superiority of the so-called “Yamato Race.” We disparaged all other races. … If we didn’t have a feeling of racial superiority, we couldn’t have done it. People with today’s sensibilities don’t grasp this. … We, ourselves, had to struggle with our humanity afterwards. It was an agonizing process. There were some who killed themselves, unable to endure.”

— Tamura Yoshio, a member of biological warfare Unit 731, from “Japan at War: An Oral History”

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his chief Cabinet secretary have accused the Asahi Shimbun of “shaming Japan.” In August, the newspaper retracted articles based on the testimony of a Japanese solider, Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have rounded up “comfort women.”

Comfort women is a euphemism for the females serving as prostitutes to the Japanese military during World War II. The conservative press, led by the ultranationalist Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun, seized upon the Asahi’s partial retraction of past reporting as absolute proof that the government had no role in coercing women into working as prostitutes.

The right-wing argument seems to work like this: If there are 1,000 pieces of evidence and one or two of them are wrong, they’re all wrong by extension.

By this logic, the Japanese military wasn’t involved in sexual slavery and no women were victimized — in short, that all women testifying to their deplorable experience are money-grubbing whores.

After the Asahi retraction, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party issued a statement demanding that newspapers worldwide correct their mistaken reports — which, they seemed to imply, was based solely on Yoshida’s testimony. The LDP has also pledged to conduct an investigation into the comfort women issue.

Perhaps they should simply ask former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. He seems to know a lot about the comfort women.

In his memoir, “The Neverending Navy,” he described his wartime experiences managing troops: “After a while, some of the soldiers began to attack the women and gamble. So I took great efforts to build a comfort station.”

When questioned about this account at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in March 2007, he refused to give a final answer but agreed with the Kono statement (regarding the treatment of the comfort women) and said, “As a Japanese person, I think it’s something Japan should apologize for…and apologize again.”

According to military documents, Nakasone ordered his troops in Southeast Asia to “gather the local women (土人女) and make a comfort station.” It’s unlikely to be a place where people played shogi (Japanese chess).

Tsuneo Watanabe of the Yomiuri is a good friend of Nakasone, so maybe he should ask his old buddy for clarification?

The Sankei has made a huge stink over the comfort women issue. The greatest denier of their reporting is Sankei’s former president, Nobutaka Shikanai, who served in the accounting division of the Imperial Japanese Army during the war. He was in charge of staffing and opening “comfort stations.”

He describes his work in “The Secret History After the War” as follows: “When we procured the girls, we had to look at their endurance, how used up they were, whether they were good or not. We had to calculate the alloted time for commissioned officers, commanding officers, grunts, how many minutes. We also had to fix prices according to rank. There was even a prospectus we learned in (military) accounting school.”

The term Shikanai used for the procurement of women was choben, an old military word that referred to gathering food for the horses.

There are hundreds of documents showing the Japanese military’s involvement in the comfort stations, as well as recent testimony. There are records from Japan’s postwar Ministry of Justice in which soldiers admitted to having been paid money to keep the crimes quiet as the war ended.

There is one uncomfortable truth about the comfort women. Prostitution was legal in Japan before the war and after. Yes, some of the women were well paid and treated reasonably well. Many comfort women were also Japanese women. Few of them have come forward.

For argument’s sake, let’s put aside the issue of kyoseirenko — forced transportation. Even if that didn’t exist, it doesn’t render the suffering of those swindled into the work — physically abused and held under conditions that modern-day Japan recognizes as human trafficking — any less horrific.

According to a report commisioned by the Dutch government in 1993, up to 300 Dutch women worked at Japanese military brothels in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), of which “some 65 were most certainly forced into prostitution.”

Maybe the right wing only has a problem with allegations made by Korean women? In other words, other women were sexually enslaved but Korean prostitutes were not. Maybe that’s the point?

You may think I’m conflating the issue of the comfort women by bringing up Unit 731, Japan’s biological warfare unit that killed hundreds — possibly thousands — of foreign civilians in experiments. I’m not. I’m making a point — the people killed by the unit weren’t “volunteers”; they were captured and used like lab animals.

Does anyone think a military that would go so far has any qualms about coercing women into working in brothels or turning a blind eye to the practice?

The government has never issued a formal apology to the victims of Unit 731.

If the prime minister is not ashamed of the comfort women, there’s plenty of other things to feel guilt over. Maybe he just believes in the superiority of the Yamato race so the atrocities committed against other Asians don’t matter. After all, they’re subhuman — who cares about their human rights?

National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani, an associate of hate-speech group Zaitokukai, seems to feel that way about Korean Japanese.

Who is shaming Japan? It’s definitely not the Asahi, Mr. prime minister, it’s you. It’s the Sankei and the LDP for whitewashing history, ignoring war atrocities and burying the words of your elders.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.