The Widening Gap between Increasing Criticism and Growing Ignorance (2)

Absurdity in the Sankei’s Campaign and the Asahi-Bashing

Urgent Symposium for the Final Solution of the Comfort Women Issue Held in Tokyo

On April 23, 2015, the South Korean and Japanese organizations who have been working to resolve the comfort women issue jointly held an “urgent” symposium and press conference at the House of Councillors assembly hall in Tokyo, in order to reiterate a new proposal before Prime Minister ABE Shintaro visited America.

In her speech at the symposium, Kim Bok-dong (90 years old), a former comfort woman, asked Abe to “change his mind and acknowledge the past mistakes” as it is “the only way for South Korea and Japan to live together in harmony.”

Based on a great many materials discovered after the 1993 Statement, which will be described later, the two groups had proposed that the Japanese government should admit the imperial army’s involvement in building, administering and controlling the rape centers, euphemistically called “the comfort stations,” as military facilities. On the basis of these admissions, the government was urged to make an irreversible apology, to compensate the former comfort women to prove the sincerity of the apology. 

This new proposal was submitted to the government in June, 2014, but Abe administration has not taken note of it.

The representatives of the two groups, Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and Japan Action for Resolution of the “Comfort Women” Issue, also stressed at the symposium that the new and modest proposal would be achievable as it incorporated the wishes of the former comfort women themselves. On the other hand, the proposal replaced the term “legal responsibility” - a term that the Japanese government had rejected - with the concrete measures that Japan would have to take.
Now the ball is in the hands of Abe, who is visiting the United States.

Most of the Japanese TV news feature his speech at the joint session of US Congress as he was apparently welcome by the American political and military leaders as a reliable and obedient partner. But it should not be neglected that his emotive speech expressed sympathy or regret in general but, as one of the English media described, it  “gave little sense that any part of Japan’s wartime history required a special reckoning” and “offered no direct apology” when his “conservative nationalism causes unease in northeast Asia and occasionally in Washington.”

Kono Statement in 1993 and its Bashing in 2014

In the first part of this essay (posted on March 31) , I mentioned about Prime Minister ABE Shinzo’s various approaches to control the mass media under his “departure from the post-war regime” policy. In the second part, I would like to focus on the Sankei and the Asahi in terms of the reviews and verifications about the comfort women issue and their consequences .

As Prime Minister Abe intended to “verify” the Kono Statement, which was announced by the former Chief Cabinet Secretary KONO Yohei in 1993, the statement has been harshly criticized by the conservative medeia as well as online based right-wingers since it admitted the Japanese military’s involvement in operating the military brothels during the war time and expressed apologies to the former comfort women. 
In the wake of such Kono-bashing, the Sankei staged its own campaign by launching the two series of articles, “History War 1: the Crime of the Kono Statement” (April 1-5, 2014) and “History War 2: the Beginning of the Comfort Women Issue” (May 20-25, 2014).

Before reviewing the articles in question, let me list up the events after a South Korean professor YOON Jung-ok initiated her research on, and interview of, the former comfort women around 1990:

In August, 1991, Ms. KIM Hak-sun came out to tell her experience as a comfort woman by using her real name;
In January, 1992, Professor YOSHIMI Yoshiaki of Chuo University discovered a relevant document that suggested the Japanese military’s involvement in the comfort women system in the library of the National Institute for Defense Studies;
Before Yoshimi’s finding was exposed by the Asahi, the Japanese government had conducted its research and announced its report in July, 1992, acknowledging the Japanese military’s involvement;
On August 10 and 11, 1992, the first Asian Solidarity Conference was held in Seoul Korea;
In August, 1993, the Kono Statement was released.

Serious Errors in the Sankei’s Campaign against the Kono Statement

On May 25, 2014, in the last articles of the above-mentioned comfort women series, the Sankei went too far in its attempt to create a story about the first Asian Solidarity Conference, a predecessor of the present Asian Solidarity Conference for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Judging from the headlines, the readers would be led to believe that during this particular conference held in Seoul in 1992, the former comfort women were directed by some Japanese instigators to single out Japan as the responsible for their sufferings, thus paving the way to the Kono Statement. 

The article quoted Ms.TACHI Masako (87 years old) as a direct participant of the 1992 conference as follows: the former comfort women dressed in chima jeogori, a traditional Korean costume, were instructed beforehand by some Japanese participants to parrot the suggested phrases during the conference. Allegedly, Thai and Taiwanese women were even told to be quiet as they spoke stories sympathetic to Japan. Ms. Tachi was also quoted to say “The conference was the starting point for spreading a bad reputation of Japan.”

And yet, the photograph which appeared on the newspaper to endorse her arguments turned out to be wrong. The error was  obvious as the letters on the photo showed that it was taken at a different meeting of the surviving families of the Pacific War victims in South Korea. It was not difficult at all to find the right picture of the first Asian Solidarity Conference which clearly showed all the women plainly dressed in Western summer wear as well as a big banner on which there was the title, venue and period of the conference.

It was clear that the story the Sankei attempted to frame was totally failed. Two of the relevant groups, the executive committee of the 12th Asian Solidarity Conference and Japan Action for Resolution of the “Comfort Women” Issue, sent a written request to the Sankei on August 6, 2014 to urge it to correct the five errors in the articles of May 25 .

As of September 19, the Sankei responded by notifying two corrections in a small frame on the paper failing to deliver any apologies. And in its reply to the correction request dated September 18, the Sankei explained that it recognized Ms. Tachi’s arguments as facts since they were based on her own experiences.

If so, such rule should be adapted to the narratives of the former comfort women. It is widely acknowledged that the stigmatized experience is hard to be narrated and what is spoken out in spite of all the difficulties and pressures has a very good reason to be believed in its mainstay.

In contrast, the Sankei’s blunder was assumingly caused by its ill-advised attempt to take advantage of an individual’s memory and her subjective meaning she attached to it for the purpose of a political “verification,” rather than for understanding her experience in its individuality.

Nonetheless, the misleading story was in turn consumed and reproduced by those who took advantages by doing that. The individual experience regarded by the Sankei as facts was also quoted by a magazine called Weekly Shincho of July 3, 2014, for framing another story to name FUKUSHIMA Mizuho, the former leader of the Social Democratic Party, as an instigator.

Asahi’s Verification and Its Significance

It took some 3 months until the two groups prepared the correction request. They instantly noticed the errors, but as they were extremely busy before and after the 12th Asian Solidarity Conference, they were unable to send the request to the Sankei before August 6.

Incidentally, on August 5 and 6, 2014, the Asahi spared the special section to verify how the comfort women issue was taken  and developed. They included the Asahi’s responses to a number of questions that would be asked by its readers as well as the Japanese leading paper’s stance toward the controversial issue.

The Asahi was repeatedly criticized since the Prime Minister Abe stated in the end of November, 
2012, that because of the Asahi’s misinformation, a fraudulent man named YOSHIDA Seiji wrote a book and it was distributed  throughout Japan, becoming a big issue as if it were a true story. And while the Abe administration “verified” the production process of the 1993 Kono statement and issued a report in June, 2014, the Asahi was groundlessly blamed by not a few commentators and online right-wingers for inventing the comfort women issue. 
Personal attacks to its staff writer Mr.UEMURA Takashi, who happened to report about Ms. KIM Hak-sun for the first time in Japan, escalated to a terroristic level.

A single most justifiable reason, if there is any, for the Asahi to become a target of the revisionists seems to be its unchanged commitment to historical issues as was found in the following statements in the article: “The point in question is that the women were deprived of freedom and had their dignity violated in comfort stations which could never be established without the military’s involvement,” and “the Asahi has been reporting about the comfort women issue and our awareness of the issue still remain unchanged.”

Cool-headed readers of the feature pages would find just few problems that are serious enough to be attacked or blamed. The Asahi re-examined their news gathering and belatedly withdrew some incorrect writings concerning Mr. Yoshida’s story. But as a matter of fact the story had been discredited long before as a result of both academic and nonacademic researches. Neither his testimony nor the Asahi’s reports of it made the comfort women issue unfavorable to Japan, causing bilateral or international problems.

In a symposium held on April 5, 2015, to consider the comfort women issue as well as the Japanese society and media through the Asahi issue, Professor HAYASHI Kaori of the University of Tokyo reported the result of the contents analysis of the overseas media.  She conducted it as the only female member of the Asahi Third-party Panel. According to her findings, “comfort women” were most frequently referred to in relation with the Prime Minister Abe’s own comments, not with the Yoshida testimony or the Asahi’s report. Abe has turned out to be the one who keeps attracting the overseas media in a negative way, adversely affecting his government’s efforts.

Written by FUKUOKA A. A.

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