Monday, June 18, 2012

Japanese Nationalists Help Erase "Comfort Women" From Okinawan Park by Jeff Hall

Japanese Nationalists Help Erase "Comfort Women" From Okinawan Park

Jeff Hall
Japanese TV Examiner

A file photo of Okinawa's Shuri Castle. In 2012, the Okinawa prefectural government announced that it would revise plans to place a historical panel in Shuri Castle Park, removing references to wartime atrocities. Photo credit: Getty Images / Pool photo by Newsmakers

Video: Interview With Naeko Ina

Earlier this year the Okinawa prefectural government announced that it would change plans for a new signboard at a historical park, removing descriptions of alleged atrocities by Japanese soldiers during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. The announcement was a significant success for nationalists who campaigned a revision of the original plan.
The signboard was meant to mark the site of the former headquarters of the Japanese Thirty-Second Army, at Shuri Castle Park in Naha City. A November 2011 plan from a committee of experts advised the government to create a signboard that included references to the many civilians had lived at the headquarters, including "comfort women" [ianfu]. It also mentioned that Japanese soldiers in the area had "massacred" Okinawan civilians accused of espionage.

Japanese conservative and nationalist activists argued that both claims were false. They asserted that there was no forced prostitution of "comfort women" at the headquarters and no massacring of innocent civilians.

To support the campaign against the planned signboard, nationalist television station Nihon Bunka Channel Sakura interviewed Naeko Ina, a woman who served as a nurse at the 32nd Army headquarters in 1945. She acknowledged the presence of female civilians, but strongly denied the existence of comfort women at the site. In addition, she declared that there was absolutely no massacre of civilians by Japanese soldiers. Ina tearfully denounced the signboard's "unforgivable" innaccuries as an insult to the many people who died during the Battle of Okinawa. The interview with Ina was uploaded to YouTube, where it has received over 7,000 views.

Several months later, in February of 2012, Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu approved a proposal to revise the planned wording of the signboard. The phrase "comfort women" and the description of "massacres" were deleted because the government could not find evidence supporting either claim. Newspaper reports mentioned that a satellite TV channel had called on viewers to pressure Okinawa into making the revisions. Although Nihon Bunka Channel Sakura was not mentioned by name in the articles, the wording left little doubt about the identity of the channel. Sakura's newscasters have claimed credit for the success of the protest campaign.

The deletion sparked protests from Okinawan citizens. The committee of experts who created the original signboard plan, including Professor Yoshifumi Ikeda of the University of the Ryukus, have demanded that the government reverse its decision.

On April 12, Okinawa's Peace and Gender Equality Division uploaded a lengthly official explanation of the government's policy regarding the controversial decision. It stated that the purpose of the signboard was to describe events that took place at the 32nd Army Headquarters, and that the government failed to find evidence that it housed "comfort women" or that it was the site of "massacres" of civilians accused of spying. The government denied any intention of covering-up or hiding the existence of atrocities that took place during the Battle of Okinawa. It noted that detailed details about comfort women and other civilian victims could be found at theOkinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum.

The official explanation has not satisfied everyone. Ikeda and other activists will continue their campaign against the revised signboard.

[ Further details on the revisions to the panel can be found in the Asia-Pacific Journal. ]


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