Shinzo Abe's 'Apology'

This post consists of two translated opinion columns concerning Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent comments on the 'comfort women' issue, as summarized in the following newspapers:

(Yomiuri Shumbun)  Abe: No apology over U.S. 'comfort women' resolution.  March 6, 2007.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed Monday that the government would not apologize for its conduct toward the so-called comfort women now that a resolution seeking an apology has been submitted in the U.S. House of Representatives.  "We won't apologize because of the resolution," he said.

During deliberations on the fiscal 2007 budget at the Budget Committee of the House of Councillors, Abe answered questions posed by Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Toshio Ogawa. Abe said: "The resolution is not based on objective facts. We're still trying to gain an understanding of them."

The so-called comfort women purportedly were forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers on the Korean Peninsula and in other parts of Asia before and during World War II.  The U.S. resolution in question, which calls for the Japanese government's apology for its role in the historical episode, was submitted in late January.

Abe expressed the government's decision not to apologize even if the resolution is adopted.  He did, however, reiterate his intention to continue a stance taken by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, who expressed "sincere apologies and remorse" to former comfort women. Kono's statement implied the government officially acknowledged the Imperial Japanese Army forced women into such servitude.  "There's no conclusive evidence, in a narrow definition, that comfort women were forcibly recruited. It wasn't like the government and the army took these women away like kidnapping," Abe said. 

(Asahi Shimbun)  'Comfort women' issue.  March 7, 2007.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ignited controversy at home and abroad for his remarks concerning "comfort women"--Asian women in sexual servitude to Japanese troops during World War II.  Responding to a question from the press last week, Abe stated: "There is no evidence to validate the coercion the way it was originally defined. We must now address this issue on the basis of this new understanding."

The U.S. media and others said that the prime minister was denying the existence of wartime sex slaves, or any evidence thereof. Song Min Soon, the South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade, reportedly said that such comments were not helpful.  These reactions, however, seem to have been excessive. Questioned by a Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) lawmaker during an Upper House Budget Committee meeting on Monday, the prime minister reiterated, "The government continues to support the Kono statement."

Issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, the Kono statement represents the Japanese government's official stand on the "comfort women" issue. The statement admits that the Imperial Japanese Army was involved in the establishment of brothels and that the recruitment of the women was generally against their will. The statement also notes that the women were forced to live in dire conditions.

Immediately after becoming prime minister last year, Abe declared that he would continue to support the Kono statement. He now appears to be saying that since his stance has not changed, he does not want anyone to misunderstand him.  Abe seems fixated on the word "coercion," and this is what has made his remarks difficult to understand. The prime minister explained Monday that there was "coercion in the broad sense of the word," citing the fact that traders effectively recruited the women by force. But Abe said there was no "coercion in the strict sense of the word," as in authorities abducting the women.  However, in the overall process of recruiting, transporting and supervising the women, there were obviously situations where coercion was used. The Kono statement takes this position. It is hardly gracious of Abe, the prime minister of Japan, to split hairs over the trivial definition or distinction of a word.

One reason why Abe's remarks have stirred controversy is that he was once the standard-bearer of a group of lawmakers opposed to the Kono statement. This group is still discussing how to revise the statement.  And the group opposes the recent U.S. House resolution bill demanding an official apology from the Japanese prime minister for his nation's wartime sexual exploitation of Asian women.

In response to the Kono statement, the government in 1995 established the Asian Women's Fund designed to compensate former "comfort women" with funds of the private sector. The fund was set up during the coalition administration of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Social Democratic Party.  After Murayama, each of the next four Liberal Democratic Party prime ministers--from Ryutaro Hashimoto to Junichiro Koizumi--signed a "letter of apology" and sent it to the surviving former "comfort women." This was part of a commitment maintained jointly by the government and private citizens to seek reconciliation with fellow Asians whom Japan victimized during the war.

Having confirmed his position on the "comfort women" issue as the head of government, Abe should refrain from making comments that may invite misunderstandings. He could hurt Japan's credibility if he is not careful.  What the government can do now is to explain to the U.S. Congress how Japan has been dealing with the issue, including the letters of apology and other facts. 

(Yomiuri Shimbun)  Abe reaffirms apologies over 'comfort woman'.  March 13, 2007.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed apologies to so-called comfort women in wartime made by his predecessors, on an NHK TV program Sunday.  "I've expressed my sincere apologies to those who have suffered psychological wounds and underwent immeasurable painful experiences," he said.  The prime minister also said: "Former Prime Minister [Junichiro] Koizumi, as well as former Prime Minister [Ryutaro] Hashimoto, have sent letters [of apology] to former comfort women. The feelings of my predecessors are something that I completely share."  Abe was referring to the letters that prime ministers following Hashimoto wrote every time the Asia Peace National Fund for Women, a nonprofit public-interest organization, paid "atonement money" to former comfort women.  Koizumi wrote: "The issue of comfort women, with the involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women...I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences, and who suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."  

Abe also reiterated his intention to uphold the 1993 statement made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that expressed the government's "sincere apologies and remorse" to comfort women.  "My comments on the matter have been consistent in Diet sessions, as well as in press conferences. I will stick to the statement," he said. 

(Ming Pao)  A Cultural Reading of Japan's "Reversal the Comfort Women Case": The Contest between the Overall Issue and the Details.  By Cheung Mong (張望).  February 14, 2007.

[in translation]

The Chinese people usually understand Japan through a set of fixed ideas, which the Chinese scholar Sun Ke described as "two immutable and opposing images of Japan": one of them is the "Japanese right-wing elements" or "Japanese government" which are enemies of China and refused to acknowledge their crimes, and the other is the friendly "people of Japan."  But having stayed in Japan for a long time, I often discovered that most "Japanese people" do not necessarily stand on the side of the Chinese people.  If you investigate the reason, then it is not because these "Japanese people" support right-wing political ideas.  Rather, there are some deeper social and cultural factors.

Anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Japanese culture must admire the intricacy of the contents.  A puppet, a tea set or even a cup of instant noodles are all designed and packaged in meticulous detail with a great deal of creativity.

Similarly, historical research in Japan also has the tendency towards meticulous details.  In studying the May Fourth movement, the Chinese scholars might study the big issues such as "the causes of the May Fourth movement" and "the contribution of the Chinese Communist Party in the May Fourth movement."  But the Japanese scholars will tend to study minor issues such as "the street route of the student protest march on the May Fourth date" and "who was the first person to come up with a certain slogan."  There are benefits in delving into historical details, because it can help readers understand a particular event fully.  But there are also drawbacks, because one may forget the overall nature of the event.  Shinzo Abe's speech about the "comfort women" re-ignited the "problem of the reversal of the comfort men" for reasons that are more or less related to this cultural practice.

On March 7, Asahi Shimbun published an editorial to defend Shinzo Abe's speech on the "comfort women."  Asahi Shimbun has the largest circulation among newspapers in all of Japan and it is an influential national newspaper in Japan.  In August last year around the time of the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WWII, Asahi Shimbun had published a special issue to reflect on the war responsibility of the Japanese war criminals (even though most of that were reflections on "their responsibility for dragging the Japanese people into the war").  So this newspaper cannot be said to be an extreme right-wing anti-Chinese newspaper.  Shinzo Abe's speech about the "comfort women" might have been politically motivated to increase his political support level, or it might be a reflection of his rightist beliefs.  But Asahi Shimbun reflects Japanese public opinion to a certain extent, and therefore it is useful to read Asahi Shimbun in order to see how the typical Japanese person understands things.

Asahi Shimbun's editorial: Shinzo Abe's speech was emphasized to be "in the strict sense of the word."  That is, based upon the investigation of the Japanese government and the known historical archival materials in Japan, there is no evidence that showed that the Japanese military "systematically" used force to enter civilian homes and conscript comfort women against their will.  Furthermore, Japan does not deny that the so-called "middle men" used force to coerce women.  Therefore, Abe accepts that "coercion of comfort women" existed "in the broad sense of the word."  Asahi Shimbun also claimed that certain Japanese parliament members and media "forcibly" over-extended their interpretations and led the outside world to misunderstand.

Asahi Shimbun's position may seem to have some basis, and quite a few Japanese very seriously emphasize that "one must be true to history" (even at the detailed level) and "it is necessary to have direct evidence."  But my sense was that when certain Japanese people interpret the "comfort women problem," they once again repeat the same mistake of "paying too much attention to the details."

Concerning Asahi Shimbun's editorial, my doubts are:

1. The Japanese government claims that they have not discovered any historical documents that showed the Japanese military "systematically" conscripting comfort women.  But this does not mean that the various Japanese colonies did not "systematically" engage in coercion.  How do the Japanese explain the evidence that scholars in various Asian countries have found about how the wartime Japanese colonial governments were engaged in coerced conscription of comfort women?

2. Taking one step back, even if no direct evidence of the "systematic" participation of the military in the forcible recruitment of comfort women is found, does the Japanese government bear no responsibility for specific instances of "non-systematic" coercion?

3. Taking even one further step back, even if no direct evidence of the participation of the military in the forcible recruitment of comfort women is found, does the Japanese government bear no responsibility whatsoever for the coercion wrought by their so-called "middle men"?

In the end, the basic problem is about the overall assessment of the entire "comfort women problem."  "Coercion," "criminality" and "anti-humanitarian" are the value judgments made on the overall affair, whereas "the presence/absence of a systematic process" and "the extent of direct participation of the Japanese military in the forcible recruitment" are merely matters of degree and do not carry the same weight as the nature of the overall affair.

The cultural custom of "over-emphasis on the details" is not restricted to the problem of "comfort women" alone.  For example, when discussing the Marco Polo bridge incident, certain Japanese scholars argue over "who fired the first shot?"; on the "Nanking massacre," many Japanese are arguing over "the number of victims."  It is a valuable thing to delve into the true details of history, and the Chinese are often deficient in this type of research.  But to over-emphasize the details while ignoring the historical understanding and value judgment of the overall event is enough to make the Chinese people become suspicious about the true intent behind this type of "Japanese ambiguity."

(Ming Pao via Diuman Park; also at Ma Kafai's blog)  Heaven Have Mercy!  They were sex slaves, not "comfort women"!  By Ma Kafai (馬家輝).  March 12, 2007.

[in translation]

When did the so-called "comfort women" became the focus of international attention?

Here is the story: in early 1990, Los Angeles television station KQED showed a program titled "The World At War."  In this program, an old Japanese soldier was interviewed.  The man had gone into business and became wealthy, but his character had not gotten any better.  He retold his wartime stories without any hint of contrition.  Instead, his eyes sparkled as he sneered about how the "Emperor's Army" gained its initial victories during the war thanks to the care and solace provided by the Korean "comfort women."  These women had supported the Japanese army in the war and they were the women who stood behind the successful men.

Once these words were shown and published in American newspapers, the Korean women organizations protested vehemently.  They directed their anger right at Tokyo and demanded that the Japanese government must acknowledge their vicious crimes in coercing or deceiving women to become sex slaves during the war.  The Japanese government rejected the request solemnly, with the rebuttal that "there is no official documents that proved that the 'comfort women' were coerced."  In August of the next year, 67-year-old Korean women Kim Hak Soon stepped up with tears in eyes to charge Japan with lying: "I was a 'comfort woman' who was coerced to become a prostitute to the Japanese military."

The angry cry of Kim Hak Soon and the angry cries of the Korean woman brought the tragic circumstances of the wartime sex slaves back above the watery surface of history.  Through numerous lawsuits, there came the 1993 Yohei Kono statement that contained a so-called apology and the establishment of the 1995 Asia Women Foundation that offered compensation.  Yet none of these forms of apology were solemn and formal, and the compensation did not come from the government.  Therefore, the lawsuits needed to continue until the female victims can obtain dignity and justice and the Japanese government formally faces up to its wartime responsibilities.

More than 10 years have elapsed.  During this long struggle, more and more of the sordid history of the Japanese military was uncovered and related.  Mounds of photographs and first-person descriptions showed that the so-called 'comfort women' were sex slaves.  The Asian women were deceived, forced, imprisoned or chained by the cursed Japanese soldiers.  They were forced against their will to service the sexual desires of the Japanese soldiers.  The Chinese scholar Su Zhiliang has researched into the origin of the term 'comfort women' in depth and he pointed out:

"In Japanese, the term for comfort women (慰安婦) is pronounced as 'Y An Fu' and it is usually translated in English as 'comfort women.'  The term refers to women who were forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers as sex slaves.  From the term alone, it is highly deceptive.  This term was used by the Japanese government, the Japanese military and the Japanese officers and soldiers, but it actually means being a sex slave to the Japanese military.  Therefore, many victims in various Asian nations are resolutely opposed to using this term.  慰安婦 is a compound noun in the Japanese language.  In books and dictionaries before the war, the term 慰安婦 never appeared.  The term 慰安 is a verb and it means "to comfort" and "to sooth."  During WWII, 慰安 was compounded with , and therefore 慰安婦 is a product of the war.  As a special term, it was only collected into The Great Dictionary (廣辭苑) (second edition) in 1978.  慰安婦 became broadly and formally used after the Japanese attack on Shanghai in the January 28 incident of 1932.  Yasuji Okamura would eventually become the supreme commander of the Japanese invading forces in China but at the time he was the Japanese military deputy chief-of-staff in Shanghai.  In order to restore the collapsing morale of the military, he was the first to ask Japan to organize the prostitutes in the Kansai district to come to Shanghai to visit the Japanese soldiers.  He made up a nice-sounding term: "The comfort women group."  Thereafter, 'comfort women" began to appear in all the places that the Japanese military went."

This marks the sensitivity of a scholar about terminology.  In Professor Su's related works, he never uses "comfort women" in the book titles.  He has a titled "In Search Of" with the sub-title: "Korean 'comfort women' Piao Yongxin and her sisters"; another was titled "Flagrant Crimes" with the sub-title "The Japanese military's system of 'comfort women' during World War II"; another one was even more direct with the title "Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military" with sub-title "The truth of the Chinese 'comfort women'" ... whenever 'comfort women' was mentioned, quotation marks were added to draw attention to the fact that the author does not agree with the deceptive intent of the words.

Concerning the language of politics, the American media which are often called "imperialists" are more careful than the Chinese-language newspapers around the world.  On March 6, the New York Times discussed Shinzo Abe's absurd performance with the news headline: "No Apology for Sex Slavery, Japan's Prime Minister Says."  This clearly and succinctly pointed out the tragic nature of the so-called "comfort women."

As for the contents, the New York Times directly pointed out: "Japan has already lobbied against a resolution, under consideration in the House of Representatives, that would call on Tokyo to take clearer responsibility for its enslavement of some 200,000 mostly Korean and Chinese women known euphemistically here as 'comfort women'."  That is to say, the term 'comfort women" was purely an attempt by Japanese people to prettify and misrepresent the sex slave system; as such, it is a lie and must be carefully handled.

Compared to the concerns of the New York Times, the Chinese-language newspapers can be said to be reckless.  They used "comfort women" left and right, without quotation marks or explanations.  They have voluntarily fell into the word trap set up by the Japanese.  This is like tying your hands and feet up at the bottom of the well and yelling.  No matter how loud you yell, the Japanese judge sitting at the top will not care.  Didn't you say "comfort 慰安"?  These two words of Chinese origin have an active sense, for the principal must actively move or cooperate in order to provide comfort.  Now that you -- just as our wartime Imperial Army did -- are using the term "comfort women" left and right, you are voluntarily admitting that this group of women "actively" offered themselves, which is consistent with our prime minister's claim that there was "no coercion"?  So how could you be in any position to pursue responsibility and compensation?

Language may be trivial or extremely significant.  It depends on whether you are looking at a tragedy or comedy.  The Japanese people are very lovable, but they can also be detestable, depending on whether you want to obtain entertainment or justice from them.  In looking at history, we must hold a firm position and tell the Japanese as well as the world that all the female victims who suffered at the various "hostels," "joy facilities," "joy clubs," "hibiscus teams" and "military paradises" were sex slaves and not "comfort women."  The Japanese soldiers did not get comfort from them; instead, they only got enough sins to atone for a lifetime.

If the Chinese-language media or Chinese intellectuals do not understand this, then the person who feels most "comforted" must be Yasuji Okamura who invented the term "comfort women" and who is presently in hell.

(BBC News)  Japan PM apology on sex slaves.  March 26, 2007.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apologised in parliament for the country's use of women as sex slaves during World War II.  The apology comes after Mr Abe was criticised by Asian neighbours for previous comments casting doubt on whether the women were coerced.  Mr Abe told parliament: "I apologise here and now as prime minister."  This appears to be part of a concerted bid to reduce the fall-out of earlier comments, a BBC correspondent says.

Mr Abe said, during a debate in parliament's upper house, that he stood by an official 1993 statement in which Japan acknowledged the imperial army set up and ran brothels for its troops during the war.  "As I frequently say, I feel sympathy for the people who underwent hardships, and I apologise for the fact that they were placed in this situation at the time," he said.  His statement has gone a little further than similar attempts to clarify his position two weeks ago, but is unlikely to satisfy all his critics abroad, the BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says.

The row over his comments have compounded the difficulties facing Mr Abe. His six-month premiership has already been rocked by a series of scandals and gaffes.  An opinion poll on Monday found public support for him - Japan's youngest ever prime minister - had shrunk to just 35%.

Mr Abe provoked an angry reaction earlier this month after questioning whether there was any proof that the Japanese military kidnapped women to work as sex slaves during the war.  Mr Abe's comments drew sharp criticism from China and South Korea in particular, where many of the women came from.  Many historians believe Japan compelled up to 200,000 women - who also came from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan - to become sex slaves during the war.  But some Japanese conservatives argue that the women were professional prostitutes who had been paid for their services, and any abuses were carried out by private contractors rather than the military.

Mr Abe's comments about the use of coercion were made as the US Congress began considering a non-binding resolution, which calls for Tokyo to make an unequivocal apology for the so-called comfort women.  Officials in Japan reject the idea that the prime minister should be told how to apologise by politicians from overseas, our correspondent says.  They say the draft resolution does not recognise the efforts that have been made to compensate the former comfort women.

Mr Abe's latest remarks in parliament have been made to clear up any misunderstanding and not as a result of outside pressure, they stress.