Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The background of the comfort women issue: I. Chronicle

During the last several weeks, I encountered quite a lot of suggestive and meaningful posts related to the comfort women issue at several English blogs I usually read. I am sure quite a few Japanese people find it very encouraging that the issue is coming to the fore among the western bloggers, since the majority of the English mass-media, in/outside Japan, seem to have somewhat biased point of view over this issue (like Norimitsu Onishi of the New York Times, extremely notorious in Japan as a typical case).

Actually the controversy over the "coerciveness" in the recruitment of comfort women, management of the brothels, etc, is almost over in Japan: the conclusion is that they were professional prostitute, or camp followers, most of whom were sold by their parent to Korean pimps because of poverty.

(Don't get me wrong, readers, I'm not denying the tragedies that happened to their lives, but that's one thing and whether there was any systematic commitment by the Japanese governmental/military personnels is another.)

The problem is that very few of the documents and commentaries issued by Japanese government officials, as well as the result of the studies by private researchers, are available in English, which is the major factor that had caused a gap between Japanese and foreign people's points of view over the issue. It will be meaningful, to some extent, to introduce the background of the controversy to people outside Japan who are interested in the issue (wish I could write better in English, though). Follows are the chronicle of the emergence of the issue:

1983:
A Japanese man named Yoshida Seiji (吉田清治) first claims in his book, that he took over 1,000 Korean women by coercion as sex slaves during WWII (「私の戦争犯罪──朝鮮人強制連行(My War Crime---The Coercion of Koreans)」 , 三一書房 San-ichi Shobo).
1989:
The Korean edition of Yoshida's book is published in South Korea ("나는 조선사람을 이렇게 잡아갔다 (This Is The Way I Took Koreans by Coercion)", 청계연구소 Cheong-gye Yeonguso). Local residents in Jeju Island, where Yoshida claims to have kidnapped 205 women, blame the book for its "shameless commercialism", saying that the coercion is "groundless" (제주신문 Jeju shinmun, Aug 14, 1989).
1990:
Motooka Shoji (本岡昭次), a lawmaker of Japan Socialist Party, takes the issue for the first time into the Diet, questioning the "forcibility" in the comfort woman system.
1991:
A group of South Korean "victims" of Japan's "war-time atrocity", including nine former comfort women, bring the first lawsuit calling Japanese government for compensation. The above-mentioned controversial book is quoted by them, as an evidence of the "coercion".
1991--1993:
Japanese government, as well as private researchers and "human rights activists" both in Japan and South Korea, independently make a series of investigations of the issue. Dozens of former comfort women make testimony in at least 6 hearings during the investigations, none of whom successfully describe the situation of the "coercion".
1992:
PM Miyazawa Kiichi (宮沢喜一) visits South Korea. Prior to his visit by 5 days, a Japanese leftist newspaper reports the "discovery of an evidence of the systematic commitment by the Japanee government" to the recruitment of comfort women and the management of comfort stations (朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, Jan 11). Amid booming anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea, Miyazawa expresses remorse during his visit.
1993:
On Aug 4, after the second investigation made by Japanese government, chief cabinet secretary Kono Yohei (河野洋平) issues an official statement admitting the "commitment of administrative/military personnels" to the coercion.
1996:
On Jan 4, the Coomara-swamy report, condemning Japan's war-time "sexual slavery" mainly based on Yoshida's book and the former comfort women's testimony, is submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee.
A few months after the submission of the Coomara-swamy report, Yoshida admits his controversial book to be a fabrication.
The description of "Japan's sexual slavery during the WWII" is added in the history textbooks for junior high school students.

The biggest mystery to the people outside Japan is, I guess, the sudden emergence of the controversy after more than 40 years have passed since the end of WWII. In my opinion, this is tightly associated with the decline of the Japanese leftist activities in the 1980s. Facing the Cold War coming to an end, the leftists had to seek their new legitimacy, and they found it in the condemnations of Japan's "war-time atrocity" together with the "victims" abroad.

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