Tag Archives: War Crimes

Wartime sex slaves urge Japan’s PM to drop plans to re-examine 1993 apology

Yi Ok-seon was a 15-year-old hotel employee in Ulsan, South Korea, when a Japanese official and a Korean accomplice came to put her to work in a military brothel in occupied north-west China.

For three years until the end of the second world war, Yi was forced to have sex with countless Japanese soldiers. Repeated injections of the syphilis treatment compound 606 left her unable to have children. “They dragged us [to the brothels] by force,” she said in the House of Sharing, a home for former sex slaves near South Korea’s capital, Seoul. “They beat us and swore at us. At the end of the war they abandoned us at the front to die.”

Yi, 87, is one of only a few dozen surviving “comfort women”, the name given to up to 200,000 women and girls, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese frontline brothels between 1932 and 1945.

For the past two decades, Japan has officially recognised its role in coercing the women into sexual slavery. But last week, the conservative administration of Shinzo Abe said it would re-examine an apology issued to former sex slaves in 1993 by the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono.

The findings could be reflected in a report Abe is expected to release next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.

Japan’s resurgent right wing, with Abe at its apex, says there was no official involvement by the wartime Japanese government or military in rounding up women and forcing them into sexual slavery. Instead, it claims the women were willing prostitutes, hired by brokers who took advantage of wartime demand to make easy money.

“The testimonies of comfort women were taken on the understanding that they would take place behind closed doors,” the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said. “The government will consider whether there can be a revision.”

The statement is based in part on testimony from 16 women and expresses the government’s “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women. But their evidence, sceptics say, was never verified.

Fearing ostracism in their own countries, most of the women took their secret to the grave. Then in August 1991, Kim Hak-soon became the first to testify about her wartime forced prostitution experiences in public. “We must record these sins that were forced upon us,” she said.

For the women who spent their formative years serving soldiers in squalid conditions far from home, the Kono statement is a long-overdue expression of remorse that should remain untouched.

Abe’s attempts to recast Japan’s wartime conduct in a more favourable light have added to tensions over territorial disputes with South Korea and China, and caused concern in the US.

On Wednesday, the US assistant secretary of state, Daniel Russel, called on Japan and South Korea to show restraint over “difficult historical issues” such as comfort women for the sake of regional security. “There is an urgent need to show prudence and restraint in dealing with difficult historical issues,” Russel said in prepared testimony for a US Senate hearing. “It is important to handle them in a way that promotes healing. No one can afford to allow the burdens of history to prevent us from building a secure future.”

What Abe interprets as a legitimate campaign to vanquish postwar Japan’s collective “masochism” over its past, others see as an unsettling attempt to whitewash wartime atrocities.

“I am furious with Abe,” said Yu Hui-nam, a South Korean former comfort woman. “Revising the Kono statement would be shameful and absurd.”

Yu, who was 16 when she was taken to work in a brothel in the western Japanese city of Osaka, initially refused to return to her hometown in South Korea after the war. “I was ashamed and humiliated,” she said. Her relatives persuaded her to return, but she revealed the truth about her past only when other former comfort women started coming forward.

“We were snatched, like flowers that have been picked before they bloom,” Yu said. “They took everything away from us. When I think back I remember only tremendous pain. We were not living as human beings.”

It is not clear if the planned review will lead to a revision. Abe angered South Korea during his first term as prime minister from 2006-07 when he claimed there was no evidence Japan had coerced the women. But in a recent address to parliament, he conceded Japan had caused great pain in Asia and elsewhere in the past. His government would stick by past apologies and the door was open for dialogue with Beijing and Seoul, he added.

Yi and Yu refused compensation from the Asian Women’s Fund, which was set up in 1995 to provide 2m yen (£11,800) each to former sex slaves. The fund drew on private donations, but many women rejected any redress unless it came directly from the Japanese state. The fund was disbanded in 2007 after compensating only 60 of the 207 women the South Korean government had identified as victims.

After Japan’s defeat in 1945, Yi remained in China and married a Korean man she had met briefly during the war. They settled in Jilin province, but were separated after he was conscripted to fight in the Chinese civil war.

After returning to South Korea in 2000, Yi was taken in by the House of Sharing, where she lives with Yu and eight other women. “I don’t know what Abe thinks he knows about this issue,” she said. “It sounds like he is making excuses so that he doesn’t have to admit Japan’s guilt. It makes me furious when I hear him ignoring what I and other survivors have said.”

Yu, 84, refused to discuss her time as a sex slave for much of her life. “I couldn’t tell anyone, because I was ashamed,” she said. “I never felt joy or happiness, and now the Japanese government is stirring it up again. If [Japan] really is considering going back on its word, then it has no shame. We are human witnesses to the comfort women system. The Japanese should apologise properly to us before we die instead of trying to deny the facts. The world is watching them. We were taken away when we were just teenagers. Nothing can give us back our childhoods.”

By Justin McCurry, The Guardian

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Japan revisits apology to wartime ‘comfort women’, sparking diplomatic row with Seoul

In Korea they call them halmoni or grandmothers – although many are so scarred mentally and physically that they have never married or had children.

In Japan, they are known as ianfu or “comfort women”, a hated euphemism for their forced role of providing “comfort” to wartime Japanese troops in military brothels. Around the world, another, starker term will follow them to their graves: sex slaves.

A handful of the surviving women can be found living out their final days in the Sharing House, a museum and communal refuge two hours from the South Korean capital, Seoul. Journalists, students and politicians make the long trek here to talk to the women, who have become a totemic symbol of the country’s wartime suffering.

Repeated rape
Kang Il-chul was 16 when she was taken and sent to a Japanese base in Manchuria. On her second night, before her first menstruation, she was raped. She says soldiers lined up night after night to abuse her – sometimes 20 a day.

Japan officially acknowledged its wartime system of sexual slavery in a landmark 1993 apology by then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono. But the so-called Kono statement, based on the testimony of 16 former Korean sex slaves, has long been rejected by Japanese conservatives, who deny the military was directly involved.

Many women feared that the government of prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is known to have revisionist views, might try to retract the apology. He appears to be proving them right.

Last month the government’s top spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said a team of scholars, working in secret, would “re-examine” the statement. “It will be extremely difficult, but it’s important to review and see what the situation was,” said Mr Suga.

Analysts are divided on whether the review is a sop to Japan’s political right, which has been pressuring Mr Abe to scrap what they see as a shameful and flawed admission, or a first step to retraction. Either way, Seoul reacted with fury.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council forum in Geneva on Wednesday, the South’s foreign minister Yun Byung-se said the comfort women episode “still haunted” ties with Tokyo. He called the attitude of Japan’s leaders an “affront to humanity”.

Japanese conservatives say South Korea has long used the comfort women issue as a diplomatic stick to humiliate Japan abroad. But Korean activists say their government has not gone far enough.

Compensation sell-out
Many believe Seoul bartered away any compensation claims when it signed a friendship treaty with Japan in 1965, in return for millions of dollars in soft loans and grants.

Mr Yun’s speech – the most high profile yet by a Korean foreign minister – may be a sign that the gloves are off. The increasingly bitter dispute is spilling over into the US, where memorials to the comfort women, funded by Korean communities, have started popping up across the country.

Any attempt to water down the Kono statement would deal a devastating blow to these already frayed ties, says Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a Japanese historian who uncovered evidence that the Imperial Army had set up “comfort stations” (military brothels) across Asia. “With Mr Abe in power, it’s not really possible to be optimistic,” he says.

Kang Il-chul recalls the day she was taken. “The soldiers had a list with my name on it. They put me in a truck. My nephew came out to look at them. He was just a baby. The soldiers kicked him and he died.”

Memories like that make her strong, she says. “Future generations will call us prostitutes. Either they [the Japanese government] save their faces, or we save ours.”

By David McNeil, The Irish Times

Vandalized Anne Frank diaries are troubling sign of the times

There’s a reason the nuns in Queens had me and my classmates read Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” several times — the same reason that’s made the book required reading around the globe. The 15-year-old’s account of hiding from the Nazis is impervious to nut jobs who argue the Holocaust is fiction.

Shockingly, in recent days at least 282 copies of Frank’s memoirs have been vandalized at 36 libraries across Tokyo — their pages torn or defaced. No one knows who did it, or why. But it requires an acrobatic feat of compartmentalization not to see the connection to Japan’s own recent efforts to deface history.

Earlier this month, the southern Japanese city of Minami Kyushu asked the U.N. World Heritage organization to enshrine farewell letters written by World War II kamikaze suicide pilots alongside documents like Frank’s diaries and the Magna Carta. The request drew an immediate rebuke from China and stirred up Japan’s right wing. What many see as evidence of Japan’s wartime fanaticism, nationalists view as testaments to manly duty and devotion to the Emperor.

I have no evidence that Japan’s right-wingers are behind this clearly coordinated campaign to desecrate Frank’s work. Anti-Semitism isn’t particularly pervasive among Japanese (although one extremist group is organizing a 125th birthday party for the Fuhrer so fans can “converse, listening to Wagner’s music and enjoying wine together”). But it would be a coincidence of astounding proportions if this shameful vandalism weren’t related to the kamikaze letters controversy.

One has to ask to what extent the return of nationalistic leader Shinzo Abe has encouraged such behavior. Though most attention has focused on Abe’s efforts to revive the economy, right-wingers have delighted in the prime minister’s other initiatives — to whitewash textbooks, beautify Japan’s wartime aggression, load the governing board of national broadcaster NHK with like-minded conservatives, and embolden the nation’s military.

No, I’m not suggesting Abe bears responsibility for the Frank diary attacks. But his 14 months in office have created an atmosphere that’s encouraging fringe activists, who may believe Abe secretly supports them. Intentionally or not, the Prime Minister has fed this impression by visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 World War II Class A war criminals, and hinting that he wants to revisit a past apology for the military’s sex-slave program. Among Abe’s picks for the NHK board is a man who claims the Nanjing Massacre of the 1930s never happened.

When Abe and his ilk explain why Japan should be able to honor its dead soldiers and rewrite its pacifist Constitution, they highlight how their nation has been a model global citizen. The argument is not without merit. For 68 years now, Japan has been a peaceful, generous, and reasonably cooperative power.

Yet Abe’s rightward turn could squander much of the “soft power” Japan amassed since then. Japanese don’t tend to track events in Richmond, Virginia and Glendale, California very closely. But it’s in these two American cities that officials in Tokyo can get a glimpse of their nation’s future. It’s not pretty.

On Feb. 6, the Virginia legislature passed a bill to change textbooks to say the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea. It may not seem like a big deal, but the move outraged Japan. The change came at the behest of fast-rising contingent of Korean-American voters who are wielding that power to right what they view as historical wrongs by Japan 11,000 km away. Tokyo has also taken great umbrage at a “comfort women” statue in the Los Angeles area erected by Asian Americans, and protests from Japanese diplomats and an online petition to President Barack Obama have gone unheeded. More and more, Chinese-Americans are showing up at Japanese consulates with protest placards, including in December when Abe visited Yasukuni.

As Abe preaches the glory of patriotism more than capitalism, expect Korea and China to intensify efforts around the world to shame Tokyo. Take Xi Jinping’s trip to Germany next month.

According to Reuters, the Chinese president plans to highlight Germany’s atonement for the sins of World War II, in order to embarrass Japan. It’s a reminder that statements from Japanese politicians have repeatedly undercut the country’s many apologies for its wartime behavior.

Abe’s mandate from voters is the economy, not prettifying some ugly moments in the nation’s history. He should get back to that job. But first he must unequivocally condemn the Frank attacks in clear and strong terms. Few issues are more cut-and-dry than the need to denounce anti-Semitism in all forms. This isn’t an issue to be left to Abe’s Cabinet chief, Yoshihide Suga, whose name isn’t widely known outside Japan. It’s a task for the nation’s leader, and Abe’s silence is, like much of his other signaling thus far, damaging the nation’s interests.

By William Pesek,  a Bloomberg View columnist based in Tokyo.

Japan’s Sex Slaves: Tokyo Reviews WWII Misery of Comfort Women

A government spokesperson has said Tokyo may reconsider re-examining a 20-year-old study after Japan backtracked on a landmark apology over forced prostitution during the Second World War.

Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, was responding to an ultra-conservative opposition lawmaker who sparked criticism when he claimed that sex slavery during the war was a myth.

Japan Restoration Party lawmaker Hiroshi Yamada said that Japanese children could not be proud of their country because of other “false” accusations.

More than 200,000 women of Korean, Chinese and Philippines origin were forced into sex slavery and trafficking by the Japanese military. The prostitution corps exploited so-called comfort women from across Japanese-occupied countries as well as a small number from Holland and Australia.

Women were abducted from their homes in countries under Japanese control. Some were lured by the promise of work, before they were incarcerated in the “comfort stations”.

Comfort girls in Japan

Wikimedia Commons
Chinese and Malayan girls were forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as “comfort girls” for the troops

Suga said Japan might consider revising its views on the testimonies of 16 South Korean women who said they had been forced into prostitution by the Japanese military.

Suga’s comments followed a statement by the deputy chief cabinet secretary at the time of the apology, Nobuo Ishihara, that Japan had never verified the 16 women’s accounts.

The interviews were conducted by Japanese government officials in Seoul at the request of South Korea’s government and were key to Japan’s 1993 statement and apology later that year.

The statement, issued by then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged many women were forced into prostitution for Japanese troops despite a lack of records clearly showing Japanese government involvement.

In 1994, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women’s Fund to distribute additional compensation to comfort women from South Korea, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

However, in 2007, the Japanese cabinet decided: “No evidence was found that the Japanese army or the military officials seized the women by force.” The fund was dissolved.

US president Barack Obama recently urged the Japanese government to apologise for the use of comfort women during World War II. He called on Tokyo to “formally acknowledge, apologise and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner”.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was urged to apologise publicly and for leading Japanese political figures to “refute claims denying the existence and purpose of the system as well as to educate current and future generations about this horrible wartime crime”.

In May 2013, Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, was forced to apologise for saying that forced prostitution was a military necessaity for his country’s army during the war. Two former South Korean sex slaves demanded his resignation as a result.

By International Business Times

Ex-Japanese PM meets former Korean sex slaves

The 89-year-old former Japanese leader, Tomiichi Murayama, arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for a three-day visit arranged by South Korea’s minor opposition Justice Party.

Murayama issued a statement in 1995 acknowledging and apologizing for the suffering his country inflicted on neighboring countries, including Korea, through its aggressions in the early part of the 20th century.

Murayama said he made the apology as he believed it was necessary to gain trust from Asian countries for Japan to develop in a morally upstanding way.

His visit comes as relations between Seoul and Tokyo have become badly frayed over Japan’s increasingly aggressive nationalist moves under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Calls have grown in South Korea for Tokyo to honor the so-called Murayama statement as well as a similar apology issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993.

Upon arrival, Murayama visited the National Assembly and toured an exhibition of artworks by former sex slaves.

He held hands and spoke with three of the victims, who were at the exhibition, saying, “You look young. Please be healthy, always.”

One of the victims demanded through an interpreter that Japan sincerely apologize and compensate for its wartime crimes, but Murayama did not respond.

Rep. Jeong Jin-hoo of the Justice Party later said the former prime minister sighed as he looked at the artworks, saying, “I’m speechless.”

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery at front-line Japanese military brothels during Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The issue remains a thorn in the two countries’ relations as Tokyo has snubbed Seoul’s demands for talks on compensating the aging Korean women, claiming that all compensation was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized their ties.

Speaking with Justice Party lawmakers, Murayama said he thought about what had caused the current tensions in the two countries’ relations.

“The two countries have many things in common,” he said. “I hope that they will hold sincere talks so as to build trust.

“All previous prime ministers of Japan claimed to have succeeded the Murayama statement, as South Korea, China, and other Asian countries are aware of,” he added. “From this, (Asian countries) showed signs of improvement in their relationship (with Japan).”

Murayama is scheduled to give a lecture at the National Assembly on Wednesday and meet Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on Thursday before returning to Japan.

By Yonhop News Agency