Former Asahi reporter files libel suit over ‘comfort women’ issue


Staff Writer

Bashed and threatened for months by right-wingers and history revisionists, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter made a rare appearance in Tokyo Friday to file a libel suit against a major publisher and a noted scholar of Korean studies.

Takashi Uemura is seeking ¥16.5 million in damages from Bungeishunju Ltd. and Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University, saying they erroneously claimed he fabricated stories about “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the thousands of women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels

At a news conference, Uemura said their “unfounded slander” prompted some anonymous nationalists to threaten his employer, and violated the privacy of his family by posting a photo of his daughter on the Internet.

“I filed the libel suit in the Tokyo District Court to defend the human rights of me, my family and friends of my family as well as the safety of my employer, Hokusei Gakuen University” in Sapporo, Uemura said at the news conference, held in district court.

Uemura became in 1991 the first reporter to write about the first South Korean woman to come out under her real name and acknowledge she had been a comfort woman.

In its Feb. 6 edition last year, Bungeishunju’s weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, quoted Nishioka as saying that Uemura “fabricated a story” that the woman in question was “forcibly taken” to a military brothel as a member of the Teishin-tai (Volunteer Corps).

Nishioka was quoted in the article as saying that the Teishin-tai was in fact organized by Japanese authorities to have women work in factories, not military brothels, so “it is not too much to say (that the article by Uemura) is a fabricated story.”

According to Uemura, at that time former comfort women in South Korea were generally described as former-Teishin-tai members, and all major Japanese media outlets used that term.

Uemura said that in his article, he wrote that the woman in question was “tricked into becoming a comfort women,” not that she was violently kidnapped by Japanese authorities, as Nishioka stated.

The Shukan Bunshun article prompted many anonymous people to threaten Kobe Shoin Women’s University, which was set to hire Uemura as a professor.

He said the school urged him to voluntarily cancel the employment contract, and he eventually agreed.

Uemura was later hired by Hokusei Gakuen University as a lecturer. The Sapporo-based university also received numerous anonymous threats urging that Uemura be fired.

In a faxed statement, Bungeishunju said it has “full confidence in its report.” A comment from Nishioka was not immediately available.

Uemura has been a target of history revisionists and right-wingers who try to play down Japan’s responsibilities for the suffering of the comfort women. Many of them claim Uemura wrote his articles because his wife is a South Korean whose mother was a member of an association of South Korean war victims.

But Uemura countered that he was covering comfort women issues as an Asahi reporter before he met his future wife in South Korea, and that his mother-in-law knew nothing of the comfort woman in question until his story was published.

“People are criticizing me because I’m the first person to bring the existence of comfort women to light before (these women) came out in public” and used their real names, Uemura said.

Some erroneous reports on the comfort women and the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have rocked Asahi, which is generally considered a liberal daily. Former President Tadakazu Kimura stepped down last month.

  • VerityHeld

    To those who criticize and threaten this man: pay attention. By denying what happened, you cheapen and tarnish the soul of Japan. Sex slavery did happen, denying it is the same as approving it.

    • Fred Orangefield

      Very few right-wingers in Japan deny the sex slavery in totality. The great majority admit that it did happen but only in isolated cases, which is supported by newspaper reports that Japanese army tried to fight against such incidents (comitted by the Korean brokers). This in turn refutes the claims by the campaigners in China and Korea. I encourage everyone to examine all these primary source evidence before believing what is commonly said about this. Mr Uemura wrote some of the early reports of Comfort Women Issues in which he mixed up the Comfort Women and factory workers, resulting in the present confusion that there were up to 200,000 Comfort Women in Korea. It may have been a tiny technical mistake, but such a mistake is still being used by Korean campaigners that Japanese military systematically mobilized a huge group of Comfort Women in war zone — it had a tragic consequence for both Korea and Japan.

  • leconfidant

    If they were confident they had nothing to hide, they would welcome a thorough examination of the facts. This behavior signals not so much that they are wrong, but that they know they are wrong, and that they would rather hide their crime than apologise for it. It’s absolutely shameful. If they’re trying to make Japan shine in the eyes of the world, it kind of has precisely the opposite effect. We do not expect anyone to be ready to change their behavior until they can admit what they did.

    • Fred Orangefield

      I guess “they” refer to Mr Uemura and Asahi Shimbun. If so, I agree with you.

  • Richard Solomon

    The attacks on this newspaper writer are but one aspect of a campaign by the nationalists and PM Abe to deny the culpability of the Japanese military and government for the creation of comfort women during WW II. Abe’s hand picked director of NHK has instructed its reporters not to use the term ‘sex slaves’ in any reporting it does on this issue. The attempts to deny this issue is one of the causes of the deterioration in Japan’s relations with China and S Korea. We shall see how forthcoming Abe’s statements are next summer when he comments on 70th anniversary of the end of WW II.

    • Fred Orangefield

      It is not that. You are mislead by the propaganda machine of CCP. Japanese nationalists are not denying all these, as anyone can check what the successive conservative government has said in the past. It is only that the some of the war-crime issues are deliberately manipulated by the CCP lately that Japan had no choice but to stand up to defend the country. See what is happening in the South China Sea — China is advancing militarily and taking over small islands. Japan’s Senkaku Islands are facing the same danger. Asahi Shimbun somehow stands for CCP to achieve its aim, which should be recognised as danger for the world.

      • SabineRiver

        Is there no Japanese corporate media propaganda machine doing its best to mislead the Japanese people and revive militarism?

      • Fred Orangefield

        I don’t know any.

      • Read the Sankei Simbun (Japanese version) if you can. It’s a neo-nazi revionist press in my opinion. Today’s editorail accused Uemura of abusing his freedom of speech due to the aforementioned press conference.

      • Actually Yomiuri Simbun (Japanese version) also belongs to this category. if you read its editorials about topics like “Comfort Women”, you would know what I mean.. Since Yomiuri has over 10 millions subscritions, you can imagine what most Japanese have in mind.

      • johnniewhite

        Oh dear. This shows who you are.

      • johnniewhite

        I think you are right, Fred. PM Abe has been hugely welcomed by every country where he visited in the last two years and his positions being praised. It is just China and Korea who have issues with PM Abe, not because of history issues, but because of their own domestic problems. They need a weak Japan so that they can divert the attention of their people to Japan as a more evil and pathetic being than themselves. This perspective must not be forgotten when talking of the politics in the Far East.

      • snicker_snack

        Dear moderator, am almost certain if you check you’ll find that Fred Orangefield and johnniewhite have the same IP address. Their posts reek of sockpuppetry. Plus this one commentator posing as two is also I’m pretty sure not a private individual making comments but part of a PR effort on the part of the historical revisionists. About as subtle as plain clothes policeman.

  • Every time when I read such news, I can’t help coming to the conclusion: There is no such thing as freedom of speech in Japan!

    • Fred Orangefield

      Yes, I have to agree. It’s always the liberal media in Japan that are successfully grabbing the attention of the world media, and the views from the conservative are distorted deliberately as worthless criminals, including Mr Abe.

      • Frankliy speaking, I doubt there is liberal media in Japan except the JT, but normal Japanese don’t read it. Asahi for example: although it had a very dirty past during the WWII, it has never – so far as I know – apoligized for this. Ironically. it retracted the reports regarding Comfort Women and apolized to the public, which caused the right wingers inc. Abe feel justified for their revisionist views.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “Frankliy speaking, I doubt there is liberal media in Japan except the JT…”

        Wow, this comment had me laughing out loud!

        If your definition of ‘liberal media’ is a bunch of complaining N-J or naturalized Japanese unable to analyze anything except from their own self-proclaimed ‘advanced society’ way-of-thinking, then yes, this is the only liberal media on Japan. Thankfully!

        By this definition too, outside of Japan there is nothing BUT liberal media.

      • Just my subjective opinion. I speak Chinese, German and English and can read Japanese. So I get news from 20 different media every day. Maybe you have a wider pool for your infos. But my opinion is definately not groundless.

      • Sam Gilman

        The JT was pro-government during the war too.

      • Nobody is perfect, unfortunately. However, if you read other Japanese newspapers everyday. you will find the JP really dare tackle some sensible issues which even Asahi (a so-called liberal press of Japanese style) won’t touch, esp. regarding the resposibilities over war crimes. Of course, there are limits..

      • Sam Gilman

        Forgive me for thinking you’re engaged in straightforward propagandising in English. The Asahi does not engage in war crimes denial.

      • Sir: I;m afraid propagandising is not a right word for a free discussion. There were many war crimes committed by the Imperail Army and Navy. “Comfort Women” is only one of them. Asahi had repeatedly reported in the past on this issue, but then, as you probably know, retracted all the reports and apologized. The reason: the witness Yoshida, a former officer, had lied. The retraction has been causing a turmoil in Japan and giving Abe and co. a helping hand in claiming there were no forced “Comfort Women”. Sure, Asahi doesn’t deny the existence of such women, But, so far as I know, it has never told the public the most important point: Yoshida might be a liar, but many victims have testified they were forced That’s the reason why the UN won’t retract its report only because Yosihda might have lied. If you read Japanese press, you will know the Japanese only care about whether Yoshida had lied or notr not. They don’t think the testmony of victims is the real point As a so-called liberal newspaper, Asahi has failed its role. Besides the Comfort Women, I can’t remember which crimes this paper had explicitly refered to in the past. Maybe you jnow better.

      • Sam Gilman

        Have you ever heard of a search engine called Google?

        Seriously, the idea that the whole of Japanese society is in denial is just silly. It’s almost as silly as describing the JT as the conscience of Japan.

      • Fred Orangefield

        Believe or not, Asahi Shimbun is considered by many responsible for the creation of these issues. They have already retracted 18 articles of what they have reported in the past, and many people suspect that more will follow. So there is no point of listing the articles from that paper.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Your ability to read several languages is laudible. However a large portion of the world’s mainstream media gets its ‘information’ from the same sources. Most so-called journalism these days is a joke, and I say that with a great deal of sadness. The change came when many media went from being a source of objective factual news to the main source of daily entertainment. I gave up after 3/11.

        Much more important to getting the true picture of any issue (which is never the simple dichotomy that so many find convenient and easy to swallow) is to use a cross-section of credible sources, even if that is within one language. Whatever opinion they may be stating, such real sources are easy to recognize, they always exhibit certain features.

      • I beg to differ. I’m no journalist, but have cultuvated my reading hobby since 30 years. I (as non-German) know the German media e. g. quite well, and can therefore not understand why they get the infos from the same sources. As regards the “Charlie Hebdo” terror act, they have their correspondents right in the scene and their opinions.
        As said, my opinion on the liberality of japanese press is subjective. But if you know how indisputable the consensus about WWII war crimes among the German media is, you would probably ask why the Japanese media are different.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I know why the Japanese media is different:

        – The primary reason is that the reality of German war crimes (by which I presume you are referring to the Holocaust) is a much more cut-and-dried issue, both in the sense of its scale and as having been a masterplan decided at the very highest levels, both aspects thus having left more than sufficient indisputable evidence in their wake.

        – Given the above backdrop, Japan actually has more freedom of press in real terms, i.e. on more opaque issues there is felt no need to cowtow to any ‘liberal consensus’ at least by those engaged in serious debate. Perhaps the clearest example of the difference in atmosphere between Japan and Europe/America was the current administration’s request to the UN to strike from the record purported evidence which had been thoroughly discredited, and the UN’s refusal to do so on the grounds that ‘we all ‘know’ what happened anyway, so what does evidence matter?’ Never has the liberal consensus, which is as equally intolerant of dissent as facist regimes so clearly shown its true colo(u)rs.

      • The Germans also talk about their crimes after the war. But it changed then o lots of factors. One reason why the Japanese are different is obvious: Hirohito was not put to trial because of MacArthur’s decision

  • johnniewhite

    Mr Uemura should hold a press conference where both views of his articles (that (1) he only made minor errors that are not intended, or (2) he fabricated his history to engage in Japan bashing or earning money from it) are fairly aired. Where he held this conference — Foreign Press Club in Tokyo — is basically interested to hear the views of Asahi Shimbun, and not the other side of conservative viewpoint.

    • Fred Orangefield

      Evidence for (2) is in the public domain, but Asahi Shimbun wants everyone to believe that it was (1), and Mr Uemura is a victim. Because of Mr Uemura’s articles, many Japanese children are bullied in the US. We must not forget that.

      • KenjiAd

        Because of Mr Uemura’s articles, many Japanese children are bullied in the US. We must not forget that.

        Who said that? I would be extremely surprised if typical bullies in America are following the news of a foreign newspaper, or are even interested in foreign news. Most of them probably don’t know anything, or even care, about Japan. Seriously. :-)

      • Fred Orangefield

        My post with URL is held back by the moderator. I hope it will be released soon. Meanwhile, I just want to clarify that Mr Uemura’s article ignited the so-called comfort women issue, and it became almost out of control when the issue was taken over by the Korean activists who started erecting statues of war memorials with the wording originating from Mr Uemura’s article. This was the cause of bullying of Japanese school children in the US.

      • KenjiAd

        I’m simply asking you. Who said such a stupid thing like Japanese children being bullied because of Comfort women controversy.

        It never happens. American bullies don’t know what the hell “Comfort women” even mean, not do they care.

        If a Japanese kid is bullied, it’s much more probable that it has something to do with s/he didn’t give the bully a Ninja turtle or something.

      • Fred Orangefield

        You can find out who said that by searching google. It was discussed in Channel Sakura, and there were articles in Sankei Shimbun — I gave URL, but that post was mysteriously withheld by the moderator. The Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles has launched investigation to find out about it, which you can also find from their website (if you read Japanese).

      • Bruce Chatwin

        Channel Sakura? You mean the right-wing revisionist web site?

      • Fred Orangefield

        Yes and no. It is a nationalist and patriot channel. Anti-Japan liberals calls it ‘right-wing revisionist’, and so you are encouraged not to say that. I would rather see it as the channel which exposes the lies of liberal media such as Asahi Shimbun.

  • Ahojanen

    It’s an interesting case though I am afraid this libel claim won’t stand. For Uemura had been given a great deal of times and opportunities to explain and defend his position publicly. Even the publisher Bungeishunju asked him for interviews in several occastions before going more “offensive.”

    What Uemura had acually done is just keep fleeing and missing (willfully?) these opportunites for clarification, much in his own term or favor. He had chosen to remain silent. Then all of a sudden he’s filing a lawsuit. A crucial question may be posed at court, “Why he’s been doing almost nothing but just waiting sooooo long until he finally became the target of defametion?”

    Note that I strongly oppose any form of threats or defamation (if proven such). Yet it can also be said that Uemura’s escape is primarily responsible for threats and harrasments towards him or his family. Again at the beginning he’s got many chances to correct misreports, turn it around by himself. He failed.

    • Sam Gilman

      This is an appalling thing to say:

      Uemura’s escape is primarily responsible for threats and harrasments towards him or his family

      This is WRONG and morally repugnant. The primary and only responsibility for people making threats against him and his family are the morally degenerate subhumans who made the threats. Criticism is within the bounds of civilisation and free speech. Such threats are not. This is not negotiable. To say such things in the aftermath of the massacre in France is terrible.

      • Ahojanen

        Uemura could have avoided such repurcussions himself much earlier in a better way. There were lots of opportunities given to him both before and after the threat message delivery.
        Don’t mess it up with the Paris tragedy. Unlike Charlie Hebdo, Uemura had NEVER been urged or threatened NOT to say anything freely in public. On the very contrary! He had been encouraged to practice the right of free speech, and been offered many chances to speak out and defend his story by his own word. He declined all such occasions, staying silent voluntarily. At least he’s not qualified as a journalist .

      • Sam Gilman

        The only difference between the Charlie Hebdo massacre and Uemura is that the threats were not carried out. Both represent the use of violence to shut down the free speech of others.

        Have a good hard think, when you watch the news from France, about which side you’re really on.

      • Ahojanen

        I dare say that I can be ON THE SIDE of Uemura, on the very ground of free speech. I strongly oppose threats or violence. I also respect presumed innocent-principle. But to date I cannot support him nor buy his story unless he stops being silent. Only a guesswork circulated although I am tying the best to avoid any prejudice.

        As a matter of fact, I assume that Uemura is not the masterminder for the Asahi fabrication. He seems more like an errand boy only obeying his bosses. That’s why I consider him unqualified as a professional journalist. And that’s why I also encourage him to show up for talk, even blame someone else.

      • Sam Gilman

        Well then. There is a very big difference between condemning his behaviour in speech and print, and it is certainly reasonable to argue that he has brought condemnation upon his head. But never, NEVER threats of violence. That is always the responsibility of the person making threats. No one ever deserves such threats of violence.

      • Fred Orangefield

        Good to read that you have discussion with Ahojanen and came to an amicable agreement.

      • Fred Orangefield

        I don’t understand why you can’t see the logic. Please don’t cut short the chain of events. If you don’t, you will see the point he is making.

      • Sam Gilman

        People make threats to kill people because someone says something they don’t like.

        People kill people because someone says something they don’t like.

        What’s the difference? The lack of resolve?

        As with the other poster making this horrible suggestion, have a good watch of the news from France and think about which side of this all you’re really on.

      • Fred Orangefield

        It is not like or not like. Just follow the argument step by step, and comprehend. Skipping points will only reach to the wrong conclusion. That’s it.

      • Sam Gilman

        I can follow the argument. It shifts the blame from subhuman moral degenerates who think threatening people, their children and their associates with murderous violence has any place in a civilised society onto others.

        Or perhaps you could explain the difference between terrorism when it’s done by non-Japanese and by Japanese?

      • Fred Orangefield

        I cannot help you if you do not re-read what Mr Ahojanen wrote in the top of the thread. Please read it again and again and again and again and again! Please comprehend step by step what it means. Please do not skip each point; please digest what it means. I hope you will then understand his logic. It’s nothing to do with the terrorism.

      • Sam Gilman

        He said that Uemura, because of the way he handled himself, bears primary responsibility for harassments and threats against him and his family.

        That is not acceptable. There is no context out of which this can be taken unfairly. Threats of violence – and these people threatened to kill his students, for pity’s sake – are never the “primary responsibility” of the person being threatened.

        Criticism – yes. Severe criticism, condemnation, be my guest. But such threats of violence that come from the extreme right are a cancer on Japanese society, and should never, ever be cast in any reasonable light.

      • Fred Orangefield

        You failed yet again. The story begins earlier. You omitted the bits which you need to comprehend.

      • Sam Gilman

        Perhaps you could explain to me the bits I missed that made Uemura “primarily responsible” for the harassment and threats of violence against him and his family.

        Even Ahojanen has managed to see what was wrong with that statement.

    • johnniewhite

      I take the same view as you do here. I think what you described is fair and truthful.

      • Ahojanen

        Glad to hear that. Hope we wont’ be soon blocked access with comments deleted :)

      • KenjiAd

        You mean, if someone who disagrees with you finds out who you are, where you live and work, and even posts the picture of yourself and your family with the address and phone number, and tells people to harm you, that would be OK with you.

        Is there something wrong with you?

      • johnniewhite

        I never approve of using threat, and thus condemn those that did that (and the person was tracked down and arrested, which is good.)

        Mr Uemura has not yet fulfilled his obligation of explaining his articles to the people of Japan. This is a separate matter, and I am only questioning this portion of his responsibility.

      • KenjiAd

        You agreed to a poster (Ahojanen) who linked (a) Mr Uemura’s alleged inaction to explain his report with (b) threat against him and his family by rightwing cowards, and stated:

        Uemura’s escape is primarily responsible for threats and harrasments towards him or his family.

        Ahojanen did not treat (a) as a “separate matter” as you now claim. He treated it as a possible reason for (b) (see above).

        You are being disingenuous in changing your original indefensible stance, instead of being a man enough to admit your stance was totally wrong.

    • KenjiAd

      Yet it can also be said that Uemura’s escape is primarily responsible for threats and harrasments towards him or his family.

      On my. There is no way to be sympathetic to a bunch of cowards who threatened Mr Uemura and his family, particularly his kids. What does his child have anything to do with this?

      Mr Uemura brought this on himself? Please. Even if he fabricated everything (which he did not), all people can do to him is to call him names. If anyone resorts to violence (or threat of violence), whoever that is should not belong to a free society.

      • Ahojanen

        Please check my line of argument here as a whole, stop nitpicking while ignoring contexts. I’ve kept saying that I don’t support threats and violence.

      • KenjiAd

        Now I see you realized how offensive your comment above was and backpedaling. I’m not nitpicking.

        Your so-called “content” was to blame Mr Uemura. And you had an audacity to imply that his action is “primarily responsible for threats and harrasments (sic) towards him or his family.”

        The comment above is totally unacceptable in any civilized society. You are qualitatively no different from the ultra-nationalist cowards who have threatening the violence against those whose opinions they despise.

        I think you should learn how free speech works.

      • Ahojanen

        I drop that sentence which may be misleading. My English is far from perfect.

        Had Uemura accounted for his story much earlier and proactively, such a threat wouldn’t have occurred… that is how I meant. I criticise his elusive attitude, for free speech should also be paired with accountability. Professional journalists are especially responsible for his media products. “The pen is mightier than the sword” also means the pen can damage people even more lethally than the sword (in no rhetorical sense).

        Uemura has so far failed. He quit journalism as well as fee speech with quiescence, and instead let a court decide his fate. I am more disappointed than angry at his lack of professionalism.

        On the comfort women fabrication, his abuse of pen power has incurred suffering to some people if not deadly. Was it mistaken or purposeful? Was it his solo or any collaboration? He has given no clarification let alone a single apology.

      • KenjiAd

        You have no idea how newspaper reporters work, do you?

        Responsibility for the content resides primarily on the newspapers who publish those articles (unless there is a disclaimer saying “The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author” or something similar).

        Newspaper articles are not just publication of whatever reporters write. There are editors who edit the content, verify the accuracy, and finally make a decision as to whether they publish it or not.

        In fact, as far as I know, reporters are not allowed to discuss the content (such as the source, detailed notes, etc) of their own reports with outsiders without permission from the employer. Even though Mr Uemura is no longer an employee of Asahi, I’m fairly certain that he is still bound by this non-disclosure agreement, legally or at least morally.

        Even if he is allowed to explain details freely, he is not obligated to do so. He worked for Asahi, not for Japanese people. Besides, only rughtwingers and their cohorts like yourself demand his explanation, in a despicable attempt to intimidate those whose views they despise. And you call it “free speech.”

      • Ahojanen

        >>You have no idea how newspaper >>reporters work, do you?

        I know well. I used to work at media field. Perhaps that’s why I personally feel a bit disappointed at “co-profession” Uemura’s behavior. He is no longer a qualified journalist at any sense. It has nothing to do with individual political or philosophical stance.

        As Asahi has admitted misreports, how come Uemura remains secretive and elusive? He could even disclaim his responsibility if needs be.

        Anyway, my interest in Uemura collapsed at the moment when I found him unprofessional and irresponsible. Let’s let go of him. I am not interested in an errand boy.

        As for the comfort women, no doubt Asahi staff abused the might of pen. Free speech can be exploited by such irresponsible people for their own favor or protection. But that’s the way free speech decays (paradoxically), which now concerns me more.

  • Peninsula2Today

    This is a problem. Japan cannot sweep WW.II past under the rug. They cannot deny wrong doing. Truth will always prevail. When it does. Truth is going to hurt Japan!!!!!!!!!!

  • doriru keisan

    “People are criticizing me because I’m the first person to bring the existence of comfort women to light before (these women) came out in public” and used their real names, Uemura said.

    These words of Uemura are audible so that he pushes the reality away.His explanation cannot persuade a Japanese.