WASHINGTON – Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae has rejected criticism by U.S.-based historians that Japan tried to meddle with descriptions in an American textbook over the use of “comfort women” at wartime Japanese military brothels.
The academics “allege interference by the government, but this is not a matter to be considered from that angle in the first place,” Sasae told Japanese reporters Friday in Washington.
Sasae made the remarks after a group of 19 academics in a statement criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government for asking publisher McGraw-Hill to alter the wording of the description.
In November, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the Abe government had asked McGraw-Hill to alter some phrasing in the textbook “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” which said the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly recruited as many as 200,000 women between the ages of 14 and 20 to serve as forced prostitutes.
“We tried to make them (the publisher) draw attention to the facts,” Sasae said on Friday.
Disputes between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women issue have strained ties, as many of the victims were from the Korean Peninsula, which was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
The U.S.-based academics insisted the Abe government had tried to inappropriately interfere with the textbook’s publication. Sasae denied this, saying, “I don’t think we are interfering unreasonably.”
He did not elaborate further, simply saying, “We’ll thoroughly examine the statement.”
In a landmark 1993 apology issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, Japan admitted the recruitment and transfer of comfort women was conducted “generally against their will.” But during a 2006 Diet session, Abe, during his first stint in office, stopped short of clearly accepting the comfort women were forcibly recruited.
Abe’s current government asked a panel of experts last year to re-examine the way in which the 1993 Kono statement was compiled. Abe has said, however, that his administration has no intention of rewriting the statement itself.