A distorted view of historical facts involving Japan is starting to be spread in the United States. We believe the situation is extremely serious.
A statue of a girl symbolizing so-called comfort women was unveiled Tuesday in a ceremony in Glendale, Calif.
A private group of Korean-Americans led the move to erect the statue. It has the same design as a monument set up by an anti-Japan group in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in 2011.
The city of Glendale has designated July 30 as “Korean Comfort Women Day.” The day’s origin was July 30, 2007, when the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling on Japan to apologize over the comfort women issue.
A plaque beside the statue says: “In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes … to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.”
The distorted and exaggerated phrases “sexual slavery” and “more than 200,000” are enough to significantly degrade the honor of Japan.
The private group plans to set up similar statues elsewhere in the United States.
It is clear that the group aims to disseminate false information that the former Imperial Japanese Army forcibly recruited young Korean women, even minors, as comfort women during World War II. The move calls to mind the way Chinese-American author Iris Chang depicted the Nanjing Incident in her book as an act of genocide equivalent to the Holocaust perpetrated by the German Nazi regime.
The topic of comfort women became a diplomatic issue between Japan and South Korea in 1992, triggered by a newspaper report that the Imperial Japanese Army controlled the establishment of so-called comfort stations as well as forcible recruitment of comfort women.
The government has conducted an intensive investigation on the issue, but found no documents backing up the claim that the Japanese military forcibly recruited comfort women.
In 1993, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa approved a statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to express “apologies and remorse” to former comfort women, apparently with the aim of politically settling the dispute between the two countries. The statement said that “at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.”
The statement included the sentence because the government conducted interviews with 16 former comfort women, at the request of the South Korean government. However, no steps were taken to confirm the women’s testimony.
It cannot be denied that excessive diplomatic deference to South Korea was in the background.
The Kono statement became a source of misunderstanding, taken to mean the Japanese government had admitted the comfort women were recruited forcibly.
Claims were settled under international law when the two countries normalized their relations in 1965. The Japanese government’s position is that compensation to former comfort women was also settled at that time as a matter of course. The government later established the Asian Women’s Fund and provided 2 million yen (more than $20,000) in “atonement money” to 285 former comfort women in Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea. A letter of apology from then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was also distributed to them.
However, the South Korean side reacted fiercely, saying this did not count as state compensation, and many former South Korean comfort women refused to receive the money.
Japan’s atonement project was not accurately introduced to the public in South Korea and therefore went unappreciated.
On the problem of comfort women, which has grown ever more knotty, the government needs to re-examine the issue from its roots, including the Kono statement.
At the Glendale City Council on July 9, many Japanese-American residents and Japanese nationals in the United States participated in a public hearing on the installation of the statue. Some said the city must present evidence of forcible recruitment, if it has any. They opposed the installation of the statue as baseless. Korean-American residents of the city rebutted the Japanese-American residents. A vote among four council members and Glendale’s mayor came out 4-to-1 in favor of the installation of the comfort woman statue.
No doubt the ethnic Korean residents regard the Kono statement as the basis for their claims on the forcible recruitments of comfort women.
It is true there were actions by the Japanese government in wartime that injured the honor and dignity of many women. If the comfort women issue were to be judged under the standards of human rights awareness that exist today, there would be no chance for Japan to politically win the issue.
Even so, Japan must continue to transmit all accurate facts regarding whether there was forcible recruitment of comfort women.
There is no course open to the Japanese government other than explaining its handling of the comfort women issue carefully and tenaciously at home and abroad. It is especially important to transmit information in English.
To correct the distortion that the women were “sex slaves,” it is indispensable for the Japanese government to review the Kono statement of 20 years ago.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is Japan’s largest-circulation newspaper.