“I want Japan to ask for forgiveness.” Ching-lin Yuen, testimony at the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, 2000. Yuen was among 64 women from 8 countries who came to Tokyo to testify about their experiences as former “comfort women.” The judges in this citizens’ tribunal found Emperor Hirohito guilty of responsibility for sexually enslaving women and girls in the Asia Pacific, and recognized direct government and military responsibility for the “comfort women” system, one of the largest and cruelest cases of sex trafficking in the 20th century.NOTE: This story is from Japan Focus. A few weeks after this story appeared, an article appeared in an increasingly pro-Abe Japan Times by a Professor Joseph Yi entitled Confronting South Korea’s censored discourse on ‘comfort women’ essentially claiming that South Korea is intentionally humiliating a a humble and sincere Japan. We have written to the Japan Times to rebut this view and, if our rebuttal is printed, we will link to it here.
Based not only on sympathy and responsibility, but also on trauma and memory passed down from immigrant family members who experienced Japanese colonization and invasion first-hand, members of Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States have stood in solidarity with the former comfort women. Years of grassroots activism resulted in the passing of U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 121 of 2007 calling on the Japanese government to formally apologize to the victims, and in the erection of more than 10 memorials in the United States, in locations including Palisades Park (NJ), Glendale (CA), and more recently, Brookhaven (GA) and San Francisco (CA). These memorials and statues seek to educate the public about these horrific war crimes and honor the suffering and courage of the victims. However, the Japanese government and officials have solidified their denialist stance both domestically and internationally. Since the early 2000s, the Japanese government has devoted large budgets to prevent the construction of comfort women memorials throughout the United States and elsewhere. Japan’s neonationalist daily, the Sankei Shimbun, styles this as the “history wars.” A number of right wing organizations and individuals have joined these efforts.2 Comfort women denialists often base their argument on three assertions: 1) there is no evidence that recruitment of girls and women was conducted systematically or coercively by the Japanese Army; 2) the numbers of “comfort women” were much smaller than those frequently cited; and 3) comfort women justice movements unfairly single out Japan when other countries committed similar war crimes. Denialists, including Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, have criticized the “Women Column of Strength” (hereafter, Comfort Women Memorial) in San Francisco in September 2017 as “deeply regrettable.”3 Osaka Mayor Yoshimura Hirofumi conveyed his disappointment in five open letters to the late Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco. The two cities have had a 60-year-long sister city relationship. In a letter dated September 29, 2017, Yoshimura insisted that the Comfort Women Memorial represents “uncertain and one-sided claims as historical facts.”4 Unless the city and mayor reject the memorial as public property, he said, Osaka would have to “rethink the sister city relationship.”5 However, Mayor Lee signed the resolution unanimously passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and it was officially accepted as city property in November 2017.6
1Yoneyama, Lisa. 2016. Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 111.
2The Japanese government attempted to end the “history wars” once and for all when it reached an “agreement” with the South Korean government in December 2015. With Prime Minister’s “sincere apology” and one billion yen donation, the agreement states that the discussion of the comfort women issue to be “final and irreversible” without acknowledging any legal accountability or taking into considerations of what the survivors have demanded for decades. Seven demands by the surviving women to the Japanese government are: 1) Acknowledgement of Japan’s military sexual slavery; 2) Comprehensive investigation into the crimes; 3) Official and legally-bound apology; 4) Government reparations to all victims; 5) Prosecution of the criminals; 6) Ongoing education in Japan’s history textbooks; and 7) Construction of Memorials and Museums to remember victims and to preserve history. “Shame on Shinzo Abe, Taking the Olympics Hostage as Global Calls for Justice Pierce the 2015 ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement,” accessed on February 10, 2018.
3“PM Abe says San Fran acceptance of ‘comfort women’ statue ‘deeply regrettable’,” The Mainichi.November 22, 2017, accessed on February 10, 2018.
4“Open Letter to San Francisco Mayor from Osaka Mayor,” accessed on December 7, 2017.
6“Japanese mayor says he’ll end SF sister city status over comfort women statue,” The San Francisco Chronicle. November 24, 2017., accessed on February 10, 2018.
7“Center for Civil and Human Rights controversial withdrawal from proposed ‘comfort women’ memorial,” The Georgia Asian Times. March 2, 2017., accessed on February 10, 2018.
8“Japanese consul general: Brookhaven memorial is ‘symbol of hatred’,” The Reporter Newspapers, June 23, 2017. accessed on February 10, 2018.
10For the discussion of “coercion,” see Yoshimi Yoshiaki, “Reexamining the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue,” The Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (January 5, 2015), accessed on February 10, 2018. Yoshimi states, “Even [historian] Hata Ikuhiko and right wingers have admitted that women were taken from the Korean Peninsula through kidnapping and human trafficking.”
11Hiroki Shigeyuki, Japan’s consul general in New York met with Mayor James Rotundo of Palisades Park to request removal of the comfort women memorial. “In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity” The New York Times, May 18, 2012. Despite Japanese government efforts, Mayor Rotundo and the officials in Palisades Park remained committed to memorializing the victims and survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery–what the Japanese government wishes to obliterate at all cost.