Foreign Ministry should keep alive spirit of Asian Women’s Fund By Asahi Newspaper editorial.

Japan's minister, Fumio Kishida
Japan’s minister, Fumio Kishida

The Asian Women’s Fund, set up in the year of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, represented Japan’s national effort to compensate former “comfort women” for their sufferings during the war. These women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers at “comfort stations” established with the involvement of Japanese military forces.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has suddenly deleted from its website a document calling for contributions to the fund.

The document contained a passage saying, “many women, including teenage girls, were compelled to serve as ‘comfort women’ for the military.”

The ministry took the step apparently because this passage was criticized at a Lower House Budget Committee session for indicating that the women were taken by force.

The fund was created in line with the 1993 Kono statement, issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

The Japanese government’s official position on this matter has been that the comfort women issue has long been legally settled. Under such a situation, the fund’s activities provided practical support for Japan’s efforts for reconciliation with former comfort women.

The main features of this project were the Japanese prime minister’s “letter of apology” to former comfort women, payments of compensation to victims from the fund and government-financed aid for their health-care costs.

Although the fund was dissolved seven years ago, the Foreign Ministry kept the document, which called for contributions to the fund, on its website apparently because it viewed all these efforts as meaningful.

In explaining his ministry’s move to remove the document, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said it was just a reorganization of the website, which included documents drafted by the government and those that were not.

But the fact is that the government has endorsed the content of the fund’s related documents. More importantly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself has clearly ruled out a revision of the Kono statement, which laid the foundation for the fund.

Why, then, did the ministry have to delete the document? The deletion could be seen by the international community as another sign of the Abe administration’s backward movement on historical recognition.

This is a serious concern now because a close Abe aide has suggested that the Kono statement should be made irrelevant by a new statement next year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

What other countries think about Japan is not all that matters, of course. This is an issue that raises some serious questions about how Japanese face up to the nation’s past.

After the fund was dissolved, a group of people, including former executives of the fund, opened a website titled “Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund (” Facts and records about the fund have also been compiled into a book.

The fund attracted about 600 million yen ($5.6 million) in donations. The digital museum shows the messages of some donors. One said, “I was late in paying the money (into the account) because I had been hospitalized.” Another said, “I can only give a small sum.” The site also offers some moving tales, such as a story about a former comfort woman who broke into tears as she read the “letter of apology.”

The document calling for donations to the fund served as the starting point for exchanges of the heart.

The Foreign Ministry should put the document back on its website if it says that its views on the issue remain unchanged.


Cold Comfort for Comfort women in China

china daily

Many women abused in military brothels by the Japanese army during World War II are now neglected by society and living in desperate conditions, as Peng Yining reports from South China’s Hainan Province.

At 8 am in the jungle of Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, the sun was burning off the mist in a quiet village in Chengmai county, and even at that early stage of the day, the heat was beginning to make Li Meijin’s tiled-roofed apartment unbearably hot and humid.

The surrounding countryside hasn’t changed much in the 69 years that have passed since a 16-year-old Li escaped from a Japanese military brothel, running haphazardly through the same forest of giant banana trees and banyans.

Statistics published by the Comfort Women Issue Research Center at Shanghai Normal University show that during World War II, Japanese troops commandeered about 200,000 women in the Chinese mainland for use as “comfort women”, a bland euphemism for brutal sexual slavery. Li Meijin was one of them.

Fewer than 20 of the former comfort women in China are still alive, but about 10 of them live in Hainan, including Li Meijin, who was abused by the Japanese troops for about a month.

“One night, I heard a woman scream. The Japanese soldier got up off me and ran out, pulling up his pants,” the 85-year-old said.

When she peeked through the open doorway, she saw a dead woman being carried out of a nearby building. “She was naked and ghostly pale under the moonlight,” she said. “I was terrified. I knew I would soon be dead too if I stayed. I had to escape.”

One night, while the soldiers who had just raped her were distracted, she fled into the jungle and ran as hard as she could. Although she survived, the gruesome experience left her with long-term gynecological problems and a severe backache that still troubles her.

“They raped me during the night, and beat me to do construction work during the day. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t even stand up, so I had to work on my knees,” she said. “Ever since then, I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed because of the pains in my back and waist.”

Desperate Conditions

Most of the former comfort women still alive in China live in desperate conditions – physically, socially, and financially – and they long for attention, recognition, and support from society, according to Su Zhiliang, director of the Research Center at Shanghai Normal University.

Su said the abuse the women suffered in the camps left many of the survivors infertile and caused long-term health problems. About 40 percent of them never married, so they have no families to support them now that they are elderly and sick.

Fu Meiju, 85, was forced to act as a comfort woman for a month in 1945. Her six children are either dead or live far away, so Fu, whose lower limbs have been paralyzed for two years, lives with her 23-year-old grandson.

In the stifling heat of her 6-square-meter tin-roofed apartment, she cooled herself by using a piece of peeled bark from a banana tree as a fan. Despite the intense heat, the room has no air conditioning because Fu can’t afford it. The plastic basket she uses as a toilet sits next to her wooden bed, the piece of only furniture in the room.

“Grandma’s medical treatment costs a lot,” said Wang Caiqiang, Fu’s grandson, who makes about 10,000 yuan ($1,630) a year by tapping nearby rubber trees. He said Fu has severe arthritis, and her treatment and medicine cost nearly 1,000 yuan a month.

Wang Zhifeng was forced into sexual slavery for about two months at the age of 17. The Japanese soldiers beat her and whipped her with a wet rope when she resisted.

“Few people visit her or care about her now,” Zhong Tianxiang, Wang’s son, said. He said the central government doesn’t have a support policy for former comfort women, and Wang’s pension is only 100 yuan a month.

Until recently, the 86-year-old had to collect wood for fuel and cook her own meals. However, earlier this year, Zhong quit his job at a local carwash and moved back home to care for his mother.

“Nobody will take care of her if I don’t,” he said. “People have long forgotten the history. Many people don’t know the Japanese were here in Hainan during World War II.”

In 1939, the Japanese army landed in the island province and built at least 10 camps to house comfort women.

In Niaoyadong, a county of 4,000 people, 20 girls were forced to provide sexual services for the troops. The youngest girl was only 13, according to Chen Yabian, an 87-year-old former comfort women.

Li Xiaofang, a photographer and historical researcher who has been recording the lives of the surviving comfort women for more than a decade, said these elderly women suffered unimaginable tortures, both physical and mental.

“Now they are still isolated and neglected,” he said. “In August I went to visit a surviving comfort woman. People told me she had been dead for a long time, but I eventually found her alive and living on her own in a village. No one cared about her.”

Living Witnesses

He said some of the women whose lives he had been documenting have passed away recently, but the survivors are living witnesses to, and evidence of, the atrocities committed by the Japanese army. Their suffering and the desperate conditions in which they find themselves demand a formal apology and compensation from Japan.

“Also, the government should take responsibility for taking care of them,” he said. “First we need to identify all the survivors and provide them with stable pensions and medical care.”

Li Xiaofang said surviving comfort women in South Korea have been treated with due care and respect. They live in nursing homes built especially for them and receive regular treatment from medical professionals.

“There are more former comfort women here in China than in South Korea, and their experiences were equally miserable,” he said. “They deserve more attention and support.”

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U.S. Experts Challenge Abe View of ‘Comfort Women’

Four U.S. experts have weighed in on the debate over whether erroneous reporting by the Asahi newspaper over “comfort women”–women forced to serve Japanese soldiers at wartime brothels–damaged Japan’s international reputation.

The experts said now-discredited testimony by a Japanese man named Seiji Yoshida, who said he had helped abduct Korean women for sexual slavery, didn’t influence U.S. views of the issue. In August, Asahi withdrew articles from the 1980s and 1990s that had cited the testimony.

The four experts–Dennis Halpin of John Hopkins University, Mindy Kotler of Asia Policy Point, Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University and Larry Niksch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies–were involved in drafting a 2007 resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution said Japan “should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”

Some politicians and conservative media outlets in Japan have said that if it weren’t for the Asahi’s mistaken reporting, international criticism of Tokyo over the comfort-women issue might have been less harsh. The 2007 resolution added to the political hardship of Shinzo Abe during his short-lived first term as prime minister.

Mr. Abe, who returned as prime minister in December 2012, said last week that he intended to uphold Tokyo’s past apology to victims of the military’s forced sexual service, but he repeated his recent criticism of Asahi’s reporting.

“It is true that erroneous reporting that Japan as a nation was involved in forced sex slavery has damaged our honor around the world,” Mr. Abe said at parliament Friday. “We need to continue stating facts persistently.”

The U.S. experts said the prime minister was overestimating Asahi’s role. A careful look at the facts, they said, “will refute the view of the Japanese history revisionists and the Abe Administration that the Yoshida memoir, as reported by the Asahi Shimbun, colored all understanding of the comfort women tragedy.” They added, “We are further troubled that the Abe Administration appears to adhere to this view.”

The experts’ statement was first published in the Nelson Report, a Washington newsletter on East Asian affairs. It focused on a Sept. 11 full-page article in the Mainichi Shimbun, another liberal-leaning Japanese daily. Mainichi said briefing materials prepared for members of Congress before the 2007 resolution cited the Yoshida memoir.

The U.S. experts said Mainichi interviewed them but didn’t reflect their view that the Yoshida memoir and Asahi’s reporting weren’t factors in the drafting or defense of the House resolution.

A Mainichi spokesman said the company planned more coverage of the topic. That coverage will reflect its reporters’ conversations with the Washington experts, he said.

By Wall Street Journal

Japan Denied Revision of UN Comfort Women Report

According to a statement by government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Thursday, the Japanese government asked the United Nations to partially retract an old United Nations report detailing abuses against Korean and other women who were forced to work as “comfort women” during the Second World War. The government’s request was rejected by the report’s author. The revelation comes amid a broader trend in Japan where conservative politicians have challenged the veracity of international claims regarding how the Imperial Japanese Army treated women in Korea and elsewhere during the war. Suga did not specify what sections of the report were in question.

The report, authored by former U.N. special rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy in 1996, called on Japan to apologize to the victims and pay reparations to survivors who had been forced into sex slavery during the war. The report was authored after Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement in 1993 sharing the conclusions of a Japanese government study that declared that the Imperial Japanese Army was culpable of forcing women — mostly Koreans and Chinese — into sexual slavery. Kono’s statement included an apology and has been under criticism by some Japanese conservatives. For example, current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his first term in 2007, stated that he did not believe that the women were necessarily forced into sexual slavery, sparking controversy at the time. Though Abe has recently been less willing to explicitly contradict the Kono statement, remarks from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suggest that the Kono statement could be amended in the future. That his administration would now try to revise the U.N. special rapporteurs’ report is evidence that Abe’s government is likely pandering to a small but considerably influential conservative political base in Japan.

South Korea condemned the Japanese government’s attempt to revise the report. Noh Kwang-il, spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, remarked, “However hard the Japanese government tries to distort the true nature of the comfort women issue and play down or hide the past wrongdoings, it will never be able to whitewash history.” The domestic debate on the issue in Japan was transformed this summer when the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, a left-leaning publication, issued a retraction of several articles it had published on the issue of sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army that were based on a discredited source. Japanese conservatives took this to vindicate their apprehension about the international consensus on the issue. Despite the Asahi Shimbun‘s retraction, the testimonies of numerous survivors of sexual slavery under the Imperial Japanese Army — particularly South Korean survivors — continue to resonate in the region.

Historical issues are a particular inhibitor to closer ties between Northeast Asian states. In particular, relations between South Korea and Japan have been chilly ever since Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. South Korea continues to demand that Japan resolve the “comfort women” issue ”effectively and in a way that is agreeable to the living victims.” Issues like historical revisionism on the comfort women issue are non-negotiable for the South Korean government. Beyond the government, public opinion of Japan, particularly the government under Abe, is at historic lows in South Korea.

By Ankit Panda from The Diplomat