Tag Archives: Asahi Shimbun

Japanese journalist to release film on ‘comfort women’

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Japanese journalist Toshikuni Doi plans to release a film on Korean sexual slaves during World War II in Tokyo Sunday.

The documentary “Live With the Memory” will contain Doi’s reporting in the 1990s in Seoul on seven victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery. Its release comes more than 20 years after the journalist began covering the issue in 1994.

In a recent interview with the Asahi Shimbun, Doi said that he decided to belatedly pursue the film’s release in Japan to spread the personal stories of the victims.

“The recent debate on comfort women does not represent the individual stories,” Doi said. “The film’s purpose is to deliver their own voices.”

The film runs for three hours and 35 minutes and will be shown at the Hibiya Conventional Hall.

He observed and filmed the lives of seven victims in Seoul from December 1994 through January 1997.

One of the victims is the late Kang Deok-gyeong from Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, who worked at a factory in Toyama and was later forced into a domestic military brothel.

On her way back home after Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, she found out that she was pregnant. The child was born but later died at a child care facility. Doi filmed the last years of Kang’s life until she died in 1997.

Six other victims he filmed had all died by 2013.

He said that he decided on the belated release of the film because of comments from Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto who said in 2013 that the “comfort women system was necessary.”

In April, Doi published a book titled “Live with the Memory: The Life of Comfort Woman Kang Deok-gyeong.”

The film is being released at a time of mounting tension between the two countries on comfort women.

Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angered many Koreans when he called the women “victims of human trafficking” in a Washington Post interview ahead of his U.S. trip in April.

The issue continues to hamper bilateral relations as Japan has denied Korea’s call for proper apology and compensation for the victims.

Ahead of a landmark diplomatic occasion for bilateral ties this month, some Japanese media reports are urging the two countries to mend their ties through a summit. The two countries will mark the 50th anniversary of normalizing relations on June 22.

A Korea-Japan summit has yet to take place since President Park Geun-hye assumed office in 2013.

“The historic treaty that ushered in a new era for bilateral ties was signed on June 22, 1965,” an Asahi Shimbun editorial published Thursday said. “The last remaining major diplomatic hurdle for a thaw between the two countries is the lack of prospects for a meeting between Abe and Park.”

The Japanese daily urged the two leaders to attend joint ceremonies marking the milestone occasion and “talk about their feelings toward each other.”

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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 (http://awf.or.jp).” 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.

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

UN Human Rights Official blasts Japan over Comfort women issue

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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

The United Nations’ top human rights official blasted Japan for what she described as its failure to “provide effective redress to the victims of wartime sexual slavery.”

“It pains me to see that these courageous women, who have been fighting for their rights, are passing away one by one, without their rights restored and without receiving reparations to which they are entitled,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement Wednesday.

Ms. Pillay, a South African national whose tenure as commissioner will soon come to an end after six years, criticized the lack of “any public rebuttal by the government” of Japan against “denials and degrading remarks” by public figures.

This year, Tokyo conducted a review into how a 1993 official apology was drafted. The review, prompted by conservative lawmakers who have long questioned the Japanese military’s direct involvement in recruiting World War II “comfort women,” said it couldn’t be confirmed whether the women were “forcefully recruited.”

Ms. Pillay said the issue was “a current issue, as human rights violations against these women continue to occur as long as their justice and reparation are not realized.”

When asked Thursday about the newest U.N. condemnation–just last month, the U.N. Human Rights Committee advised Japan to investigate and prosecute wartime perpetrators–Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, reiterated the government’s longstanding view. “Our country’s consistent position has been that the issue of comfort women has been settled between Japan and South Korea” in a 1965 treaty, he said.

Mr. Suga said Japan has provided aid to the women “from a moral standpoint.” Japan will “continue to patiently explain its position,” he said.

Ms. Pillay’s comments were the latest to keep the comfort-women issue on the front burner, nearly 70 years after the war ended. This week, South Korea said it would publish its first comfort women white paper—in English, Chinese and Japanese.

Additionally, Japanese conservatives claimed vindication this week when the liberal daily Asahi Shimbun retracted some stories it ran in the 1980s and 1990s that seemed to back allegations about the imperial army abducting Korean women.

By Wall Street Journal Asia

Testimony by ex-Indonesian comfort woman: ‘I was taken to a Japanese army tent’ By Asahi newspaper, Japan

More than 70 years after the Japanese occupation of Indonesia began, victims of the Imperial Japanese Army are telling their stories of being forced to serve as “comfort women” and being sexually assaulted by Japanese troops.

Asahi Shimbun reporters visited Indonesia and met many women who were cast aside by their families and have never told of the circumstances of the harm inflicted on them or had their stories investigated.

A support group for former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during World War II, is located on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, which sits just below the equator. Asahi Shimbun reporters asked the group to introduce them to people who had not previously been interviewed. An Asahi Shimbun investigative team spent about two weeks in Sulawesi, where it met 20 or so people who claimed to be former comfort women or witnesses.

The first was Bacce, who lives in Sinjai Regency, an administrative division on the southwest part of the island. At a stilt house built decades ago, Bacce, in her mid-80s, wore a sarong, cloth around her waist, and was hunched back. She is not married and lives with the family of her relatives.

“Did Japanese soldiers do anything frightening to you at that time?” she was asked.

She murmured as she started to speak.

“I was in my mid-teens then. One hot evening when I was cooking at home, two men came and pulled me outside against my will.”

The words the men spoke were not Indonesian, and they held guns. Seeing this, Bacce says she figured they were Japanese soldiers. Tears welled up in her eyes 10 minutes or so into the interview.

Bacce was pushed onto the bed of a truck before her father’s eyes as he screamed, “Don’t take my daughter away!” Bacce says there were other girls around the same age riding with her.

The place they arrived at “had Japanese army tents set up.” Bacce was taken inside one, where she said she was raped by several men.

The Asahi Shimbun talked to an Indonesian man named Hamzah, who had gone in and out of that location.

“The Japanese army set up three tents and kept seven women inside,” he said. “I saw her (Bacce) there. Japanese troops who controlled the area had taken her.”

Hamzah said at that time the community was fearful of Japanese soldiers turning young women into comfort women.

Bacce was released after about three months, but her family chased her off, saying they “do not need a defiled human.” After walking barefoot for two full days, Bacce says she survived while helping to work the fields in a village where an acquaintance lived.

“I’m angry at the Indonesian government,” she says. “They haven’t done anything for me.” When the interview was over, her flushed face was a mess of tears.

A BIG BUILDING, MANY SMALL ROOMS

The Asahi Shimbun’s investigative team sought out the site where the women say they were assaulted.

Ipatimang, who lives in Pinrang Regency, also in the island’s southwest, gave a detailed account. During the occupation, a man holding a pistol grabbed her by the arm inside the yarn-making factory where she was working. His face did not look Indonesian; she thought he was a Japanese soldier.

Ipatimang says they rode in a truck for about 15 minutes, and she was taken to the Malimpung area.

“I was put inside a big wooden building. There were many small rooms along each side of the hallway.” Inside, Ipatimang says Japanese soldiers came in one after another to rape her.

“I wailed loudly. I was scared, and I couldn’t stop crying.” She said that soon after her release three months later, the war ended.

Asahi Shimbun reporters went to Malimpung, about 10 km from Ipatimang’s home. A man who has lived nearby for a long time led the reporters to a broad pasture and said, “A long time ago, there were a lot of Japanese troops here. It was a big base.”

There were no traces of buildings remaining, but his testimony supported the story that the Japanese army had been there.

Ipatimang remembers clearly the Japanese company that ran the factory where she had worked. It is still a big enterprise today.

Relying on her testimony, the reporters headed for a corner of a residential district in Pinrang Regency, where the factory had apparently stood. Today it is all private homes, with no signs of a factory once being located there. There, the reporters met Ikalau, a women who lives near there.

Even though no mention of the factory was made to Ikalau, she mentioned the name of the same Japanese company in Ipatimang’s account. “There was a factory here when the Japanese army was around,” she said. Ikalau added, “My mother told me, ‘Don’t go near the factory. They’ll make you a Japanese man’s wife.’ Everyone was afraid.”

RECORDS OF ‘OVER 300 PEOPLE NATIONWIDE’

In accordance with a bilateral peace treaty with Indonesia that took effect in 1958, Japan made reparations of approximately $220 million and, as part of an effort to heal the wounds of war, provided economic assistance and other support worth approximately $180 million.

The Asian Women’s Fund, a project to atone for the comfort women issue established in 1995 and led by the Japanese government, also provided support with 370 million yen of atonement money.

The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs set the funds aside for repairs and construction of 69 nursing homes.

According to the Asian Women’s Fund’s records, there were 21 comfort stations in Sulawesi and just under 40, perhaps more, throughout Indonesia, where there were more than 300 comfort women.

While an investigative report found there were comfort women in Indonesia who were from China, Korea and Taiwan, the fund pointed out that many were recruited in local communities.

It also said that “certain units acted on their own to recruit women and had private comfort stations for their exclusive use” that were separate from the army-run comfort stations.

On-the-ground research conducted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) in 1993 received testimony from eight women who said they were “turned into comfort women.”

The JFBA report concluded, “Comfort stations were set up throughout the country and young women were forced to have sex.”

The Asahi Shimbun has obtained thousands of diplomatic papers from the 1990s pertaining to the comfort women issue through the information disclosure law.

Combining these with accounts given by senior government officials and other sources involved at the time, the paper ran a detailed story in its Oct. 13 morning edition on a behind-the-scenes Japanese diplomatic effort to prevent the comfort women issue from becoming an even bigger controversy.

The article told of how Tokyo feared at the time that the comfort women, which had become a major issue in South Korea, could have a ripple effect in other countries, and that the government responded by trying to avoid conducting interviews in Southeast Asia.

(This article was written by Tamiyuki Kihara and Hiroyoshi Itabashi.)