Thinking about the comfort women issue
Look squarely at essence of 'comfort women' issue
By Nobuyuki Sugiura Executive Editor (8/22)
Response to questions raised by readers about our coverage of the comfort women issue
We have re-examined our coverage of the "comfort women" issue in order to respond to the various questions from our readers about that coverage by The Asahi Shimbun.
We would now like to report on the results of that re-examination to our readers.
(By the team of reporters examining the comfort women issue)
The positions included in the articles are those of the individuals at that point in time. The ages of reporters given are current. Unless there is an explanation, all the articles are from the version published by the Tokyo head office of The Asahi Shimbun.
published by the Tokyo head office of The Asahi Shimbun.
Comfort stations and conmfort women
What is the 'comfort women' issue all about?(08/22)
Forcibly taken away: Coercion that led to lost freedom existed(08/22)
Testimony about 'forcible taking away of women on Jeju Island': Judged to be fabrication because supporting evidence not found(08/22)
'Documents showing military involvement': Government officials aware of existence before reporting in Asahi(08/22)
Confusion with 'volunteer corps': Insufficient research at that time led to comfort women and volunteer corps seen as the same(08/22)
'First testimony by former comfort woman': No twisting of facts in article(08/22)
Reporting by other newspapers(08/22)
How did problems emerge in the Japan-South Korea relationship?
How did the comfort women issue develop into a political and diplomatic matter? Why has the relationship between Japan and South Korea become so troubled despite the efforts of the two governments to resolve the issue, and why has that situation continued until today?
(By the team of reporters examining the comfort women issue)
The positions included in the articles are those of the individuals at that point in time.
The South Korean government praised the contents of the Kono statement(08/22)
Citizens groups opposed Asian Women's Fund(08/22)
Issue became pressing matter again after decision by Constitutional Court of Korea(08/22)
In relation to this coverage, point of views by experts from Japan and the United States on the comfort women issue will be posted.
What is the 'comfort women' issue all about?
Q: What are comfort women?
A: Women who were forced to serve as sexual partners of military personnel at comfort stations created under the involvement of the Japanese military during a time of war. In the statement released by the government in August 1993 under the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono (the Kono statement), there was wording that said, "this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women."
Q: What kind of people were forced to become comfort women?
A: Besides Japanese who lived in Japan proper, women from the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, which were under Japanese colonial rule, were also made to become comfort women. In line with invasions by Japan, comfort stations were also created in China, the Philippines, Burma (present-day Myanmar), Malaysia and other areas. Local women were sent to those comfort stations. In Indonesia, which was under Dutch colonial rule at that time, Indonesian women as well as Dutch women who were living there at the time were made to become comfort women.
In 1938, the government issued a directive that said Japanese women who were to go to China to work as comfort women should be limited to "prostitutes who were 21 years or older." This was likely because of a treaty banning the sale of women and children which prohibited human trafficking or prostitution of women under 21 or children. However, when the government ratified the treaty in 1925, it exempted its colonies from coverage under the treaty. For that reason, girls who were still minors and not prostitutes in the colonies and occupied areas also became comfort women. There are records of girls as young as 17 in the Korean Peninsula and 14 in Taiwan who became comfort women.
Q: How many comfort women were there?
A: Because there are no official records for the total number, there are only various estimates made by researchers. Ikuhiko Hata, a historian of the contemporary period, made an estimate in 1993 of between 60,000 and 90,000. In 1999, he revised that estimate to about 20,000. Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor of modern and contemporary Japanese history at Chuo University, made an estimate in 1995 of between 50,000 and 200,000. Recently, he has revised that figure to more than 50,000. There are people in South Korea and China who have given much higher figures.
Q: When and how were comfort stations created?
A: In 1932, the year after the Manchurian Incident, rapes of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers occurred during the Shanghai Incident. According to some records, in order to prevent a heightening of anti-Japanese sentiment, groups of comfort women were invited from Kyushu exclusively for military personnel and civilian workers for the military. Subsequently, other reasons that were given for creating comfort stations were to prevent a decline in war capability due to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases as well as to prevent the leaking of military secrets and to provide comfort to military personnel.
Q: How were the comfort women gathered?
A: In many cases, agents who acted in line with the military's intentions, recruited women first in Japan and then in the colonial areas of the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. It has also been known that there were many cases in which the women were fooled by being told, "There is good work available," or in which they were sold off by their parents.
On the other hand, in such occupied areas as the Philippines and Indonesia, there are records of women being taken away through the direct use of violence by the Japanese military. According to a 2002 report by the Philippine government, there were cases of the Japanese military using violence to abduct and forcibly take away local women who were then kept at churches and hospitals used as barracks by the Japanese military and repeatedly gang-raped.
Q: What was the life of comfort women like?
A: On the Internet site of the Asian Women's Fund, there is wording that says "while it was certain soldiers directly or indirectly made payments (at the comfort stations), it is unclear how that money was given to the comfort women." It is believed that there were differences in how the women were treated depending on the location and the status of the war.
In 1993, the government also released the results of its investigation along with the Kono statement. The report said the women "were forced to lead a life without freedom since they were made to act along with the military while always being under military supervision in the front lines of combat."
Q: How did the comfort women issue become to be known in Japan?
A: From shortly after the end of the war, accounts of their experiences given by military personnel made mention of such women. In June 1970, Kako Senda wrote in the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine about accounts given by women who said they were made to work as comfort women along with statements made by those who once had ties to the military. In 1973, he published a reportage titled "Jugun Ianfu" (Military comfort women). At that time, the women were considered as part of a secret history of the war.
Q: How did the topic become an issue of interest between Japan and South Korea?
A: In January 1990, Yun Chung-ok, a professor at Ewha Womans University, wrote a series of articles in The Hankyoreh newspaper in South Korea about the comfort women issue titled "A Report of Coverage of Footprints of Grudge of The Volunteer Corps." The visit in May 1990 by South Korean President Roh Tae-woo to Japan served as a catalyst for an increase in calls seeking an apology and compensation from Japan by South Koreans who were made to serve in the Japanese military or work as civilians for the military on the Korean Peninsula, which was under Japanese colonial rule.
* * *
Major events related to the comfort women issue (positions of individuals at that time)
August 1991: Former comfort woman in South Korea comes forward about her past for the first time.
December 1991: Former comfort women file lawsuit against Japanese government. Government begins investigation.
January 1992: Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa apologizes in meeting with South Korean president.
July 1992: Government announces results of investigation and acknowledges involvement of government.
August 1993: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issues a statement acknowledging the recruitment, transfer and control of women were conducted generally against their will and expressing "apologies and remorse." (Kono statement)
August 1994: Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issues a statement expressing the intention to find "an appropriate way which enables a wide participation of people" to resolve the comfort women issue.
July 1995: The private-sector Asian Women's Fund is established under the initiative of the government. The fund implements an "atonement project," including the giving of "atonement money" to former comfort women, based on donations from the Japanese people.
March 2007: The fund is closed.
July 2007: The U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution seeking an apology from Japan regarding the comfort women issue.
June 2014: The government releases results of a study into the process behind compilation of the Kono statement.
Forcibly taken away: Coercion that led to lost freedom existed
Question: The government has explained that no documents exist that provide direct evidence for forcible taking away of women, in which the military or police abducted women like kidnappers and forced them to become comfort women. Was there in fact no forcible taking away of the women?
* * *
In 1991 and 1992, when interest was focused on the comfort women issue, The Asahi Shimbun reported that Korean comfort women had been "forcibly taken away." In addition to introducing as one example of forcible taking away of women the testimony about "hunting comfort women" on Jeju Island made by Seiji Yoshida (explained in the next section), the Asahi also published an editorial on Jan. 12, 1992, shortly before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa visited South Korea. With a title of "Do not avoid looking at history," the editorial said "(comfort women) were recruited or forcibly taken away under the name of 'teishintai' (volunteer corps)."
Progress had not been made at that time in finding documents related to comfort women, so even experts used the term without sufficient proof. In the mid-1980s, Ikuhiko Hata wrote that Korean comfort women "were recruited in a form that was close to forcibly being taken away." (Note 1)
Originally, the "forcible taking away of Koreans" referred in general to the mobilization during the war of Korean people who were under the colonial domination of Japan as laborers in coal and other mines both in Japan and in areas under military occupation. The mobilization was conducted regardless of the intent of the individuals and under a government plan. (Note 2) An ethnic Korean researcher living in Japan who looked into the matter in the 1960s called such mobilization forcible taking away of Koreans (Note 3) and the term became widely used in the mass media. As a result, there was a wide range in the definition of forcible taking away depending on who was using the term.
Under such circumstances, the definition of forcible taking away of comfort women has also been a topic in which differences still exist among various researchers. There are some who hold the view that it should be limited to "'hunting for comfort women' or taking away of people that is close to 'kidnapping' based on the exercise of authority by the public authorities." (Note 4) There are others who hold the view that it should include "taking away through abduction, kidnapping and human trafficking by agents who were selected by the military or colonial government." (Note 5)
The process by which comfort women were gathered on the Korean Peninsula gradually became clearer based on testimony provided by former comfort women who came forward to speak about their experiences in and after 1991.
In February 1993, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan published a volume that contained the testimony of 19 former comfort women from about 40 in total. The 19 women were chosen because the group had confidence in their reliability, according to Chung Chin-sung, the chairperson of the research group affiliated with the council. Four of the women spoke of "violence by military personnel or civilians working for the military." Many of the women said they were kidnapped after they were coaxed by sweet talk by agents, or were taken after being fooled.
Regardless of how they were recruited, the comfort women spoke of the suffering they experienced, being forced to provide sex while having their freedom taken away for the military in the front lines of combat. They also talked about the fear they felt from the violence and bombing as well as such after-effects as sexually transmitted diseases and sterility.
The statement issued in August 1993 under the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono of the Miyazawa administration (the Kono statement) acknowledged "(comfort women) lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere" and "their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc."
It is said the investigation conducted by the Japanese government at related ministries and agencies, as well as at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, could not confirm on the Korean Peninsula "forcible taking away in the narrow sense of the term" in which the exercise of force was carried out in an organized manner under the will of the military. For that reason, the statement viewed "coercion" in which the women had their free will taken from them in the comfort stations at the front lines as the issue, rather than "forcible taking away."
In July 1993, a month before the Kono statement was released, the Japanese government interviewed former comfort women in Seoul at the office of the Association for Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families. The report released in June 2014 by the team studying the process through which the Kono statement was compiled said the objective of the interviews was "to deeply understand the feelings of the former comfort women by showing concern for them." The report said that no further investigation was conducted at the time to support the testimony given.
On the day after the Kono statement was released, the Asahi ran a front page story with the headline "Apology after acknowledging 'coercion' on comfort women, 'generally against their will.' "
The Yomiuri, Mainichi and Sankei newspapers all reported that the Kono statement acknowledged "forcible taking away," but the Asahi did not use "forcible taking away."
Looking back, the reporter, 51, in the Political News Section who was covering the chief Cabinet secretary at that time assumes that "coercion" rather than "forcible taking away" was used because there was a difference in interpretation even among specialists.
"What could be read from the statement, the news conference and our news gathering until then was that the government acknowledged forcible taking away in the wide sense that it went against the will of the individual," the reporter said. "However, we felt that if we used the term 'forcible taking away' it might lead to misunderstanding among the readers so we chose more careful wording."
Since 1993, the Asahi has tried not to use the term "forcible taking away" as much as possible.
In the spring of 1997, when the topic of comfort women first emerged in junior high school textbooks, The Asahi Shimbun ran special coverage on the comfort women issue in its March 31, 1997, edition.
No official documents were found that directly showed forcible taking away by the military on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, where the people living there were made "subjects" of the Japanese Empire under Japanese colonial rule. Prostitution agents were prevalent due to the poverty and patriarchal family system. For that reason, even if the military was not directly involved, it is said it was possible to gather many women through such methods as work-related scams and human trafficking.
On the other hand, in areas under occupation by the Japanese military, such as Indonesia and China, entries in documents related to war crimes trials by the Allied forces included testimonies that showed local women being forcibly taken away by soldiers and made comfort women. In Indonesia, Dutch women living there were also made comfort women.
In the 1997 special coverage, the Asahi concluded, "it can be said that coercion existed in cases where women were physically forced to remain at the comfort station against their will."
Ever since the Kono statement was issued, all succeeding administrations, including the current Abe administration, have continued to abide by it. At the same time, some politicians and experts have repeatedly made the argument to the effect that the central government does not have to bear any responsibility on grounds "there was no forcible taking away." That argument is based on the fact that no official documents of the Japanese government have been found that show the Japanese military directly taking away the comfort women.
There is a need for further research to determine how comfort women were gathered in the various locations, including the Korean Peninsula. But the essence of the issue is that women lost their freedom and had their dignity taken away at the comfort stations that could not have existed without the involvement of the military.
The awareness of the issue by Asahi regarding its coverage of the comfort women issue has not changed at all.
Note 1: "Jugun Ianfu (Seizoku)" (Military comfort women: original, sequel) in "Nihon Rikugun no Hon Sokaisetsu" (The book of the Japanese Army, complete analysis) (Jiyukokuminsha Co., 1985) compiled by research group on army history
Note 2: Masaru Tonomura "Chosenjin Kyosei Renko" (Forcible taking away of Koreans) (Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 2012)
Note 3: Park Kyong-sik "Chosenjin Kyosei Renko no Kiroku" (Record of forcible taking away of Koreans) (Miraisha, 1965)
Note 4: Ikuhiko Hata "'Ianfugari' Shogen Kensho: Daisandan Doitsu no Jugun Ianfu Mondai" ('Comfort women hunting' testimony, examination: part 3, the comfort women issue in Germany) Shokun September 1992 edition
Note 5: Yoshiaki Yoshimi "'Kono Danwa' wo Do Kangaeruka--Sono Igi to Mondaiten" (How to think about the Kono statement--its significance and problems) in "'Ianfu' Bashing wo Koete" (Moving beyond bashing of comfort women) (Otsuki Shoten, 2013) compiled by Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center
To our readers
On the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, which were colonies of Japan, agents who worked in line with the intentions of the military were able to gather many women by fooling them with such statements as "There is good work available." No documents have been found that show the military systematically taking away women like kidnappers. On the other hand, in areas under occupation by the Japanese military, such as Indonesia, confirmation has been made of documents that show local women being forcibly taken away by the military. What is common in both cases is the existence of coercion in which women were made to work as comfort women against their will.
Testimony about 'forcible taking away of women on Jeju Island': Judged to be fabrication because supporting evidence not found
Question: There was a man who testified in books and meetings that he had used violence to forcibly take away women on the Korean Peninsula, which was Japan's colony, to make them serve as comfort women during the war. The Asahi Shimbun ran articles about the man from the 1980s until the early 1990s. However, some people have pointed out that his testimony was a fabrication.
* * *
The man's name was Seiji Yoshida. In his books and on other occasions, he said that he headed the mobilization section at the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Romu Hokokukai labor organization that was in control of day laborers.
The Asahi Shimbun has run, as far as it can confirm, at least 16 articles about Yoshida. The first appeared in the Sept. 2, 1982, morning edition in the city news page published by the Osaka head office. The article was about a speech that he gave in Osaka in which he said, "I 'hunted up' 200 young Korean women on Jeju Island."
The reporter, 66, who wrote the article, was in the City News Section at the Osaka head office at that time.
The reporter said, "I had absolutely no doubts about the contents of his talk because it was very specific and detailed."
In the early 1990s, other newspapers also ran articles about what Yoshida said at meetings and on other occasions.
In the April 30, 1992, morning edition of the Sankei Shimbun, an article raised doubts about Yoshida's testimony based on the results of an investigation conducted by Ikuhiko Hata on Jeju. Weekly magazines also began publishing articles pointing to "Suspicion of 'fabrication.'"
A reporter, 53, in the City News Section at the Tokyo head office was instructed by his editor to meet with Yoshida immediately after the Sankei article ran. The reporter asked Yoshida to introduce relevant individuals and submit data to corroborate his testimony, but the reporter said Yoshida rejected the request.
During news gathering to prepare for the March 31, 1997, special coverage, Yoshida refused to meet with a reporter, 57, in the City News Section at the Tokyo head office. When the reporter asked over the phone about reports that suspected the testimony was a fabrication, Yoshida responded, "I wrote about my experiences as they were."
Although news gathering was also conducted on Jeju and no corroborating evidence could be obtained, the special coverage said "no confirmation has been made about the authenticity" because there was no conclusive proof that Yoshida's testimony was false. The Asahi has not written about Yoshida since.
However, in November 2012, Shinzo Abe, who was then president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said at a debate among party leaders hosted by the Japan National Press Club, "The problem has become much bigger because false reporting by The Asahi Shimbun has led to the spreading of a book throughout Japan, which has been taken as fact, even though it was created by a man named Seiji Yoshida who is like a con man."
Some newspapers and magazines have repeated criticism of The Asahi Shimbun.
In April and May 2014, The Asahi Shimbun interviewed a total of about 40 people in their late 70s to 90s living on Jeju. However, no evidence was obtained that supported the writings by Yoshida about forcible taking away.
In a town on the northwestern part of the island where Yoshida claimed to have taken away several dozens of women working at a plant making dried fish, there was only one factory in the village that handled fish. The son of the local man who was involved in factory management, now deceased, said, "Only canned products were made there. I never heard from my father about women workers being taken away."
Yoshida wrote that the factory roof was "thatched." Video images that captured conditions at that time were obtained by Norifumi Kawahara, a professor of historical geography at Ritsumeikan University who has conducted research on the fishing industry in South Korea at that time. The images showed the roof to be made of tin and tile.
In June 1993, Kang Jeong-suk, a former researcher at the Korean Research Institute for Chongshindae, conducted research on Jeju based on the writings of Yoshida. "I heard from several elderly people at each of the locations I visited, but I did not come across any testimony that matched the writings," Kang said.
Yoshida wrote in his book he went to Jeju in May 1943 based on a mobilization order from the Western District Army. He also wrote that the contents of the order were left in the diary of his wife (now deceased). However, Yoshida's oldest son, 64, was interviewed for this special coverage, and it was learned that the wife never kept a diary. The son said Yoshida died in July 2000.
When Yoshida met in May 1993 with Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a Chuo University professor, and others, Yoshida explained that "there were occasions when I changed the dates and locations (where he forcibly took the women)." Moreover, Yoshida refused to present the diary in which the contents of the mobilization order were contained. That led Yoshimi to point out, "I had no choice but to confirm that we could not use his testimony." (Note 1)
Masaru Tonomura, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo who is knowledgeable about mobilization matters on the Korean Peninsula during the war, said the Romu Hokokukai that Yoshida claimed he worked for was created through instructions given by the Health and Welfare Ministry as well as the Home Ministry.
"Given the chain of command, it is inconceivable for the military to issue the mobilization order, and for employees to go directly to the Korean Peninsula," Tonomura said.
Yoshida also explained that in May 1943, when he claimed to have forcibly taken away the women, the "Army unit headquarters" "maintained military rule" on Jeju. Regarding that point, Kazu Nagai, a professor of modern and contemporary Japanese history at Kyoto University, pointed out that documents of the former Army showed that a large Army force only gathered on Jeju after April 1945.
"The contents of his writing cannot be considered to be true," Nagai said.
Note 1: Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Fumiko Kawata, compilers, " 'Jugun Ianfu' wo Meguru 30 no Uso to Shinjutsu" (30 lies and truths surrounding 'military comfort women') (Otsuki Shoten 1997)
To our readers
We have made the judgment that the testimony that Yoshida forcibly took away comfort women on Jeju was a fabrication. We retract our articles on him. We were unable to uncover the falseness of his testimony at the time the articles were published. Although additional research was conducted on Jeju, we were unable to obtain any information that corroborated his testimony. Interviews with researchers have also turned up a number of contradictions regarding the core elements of his testimony.
'Documents showing military involvement': Government officials aware of existence before reporting in Asahi
Question: Regarding an article by The Asahi Shimbun that appeared on the front page of the Jan. 11, 1992, morning edition and titled "Documents showing military involvement in comfort stations," some people have said it was "intentional reporting" designed to turn the comfort women issue into a political matter because the article appeared shortly before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa visited South Korea.
* * *
The article was about official documents kept at the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies of the Defense Agency. They showed that during the war, the former Japanese military supervised and controlled the establishment of comfort stations and recruitment of comfort women. The documents also included orders to local units to establish comfort stations.
Questions about the comfort women issue were repeatedly raised in the Diet after 1990. Government officials responded, "We face a situation of not being able to grasp the situation at all," and denied involvement. After the Asahi article appeared, Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato said, "We cannot deny that the Japanese military in the past was involved."
Five days later, on Jan. 16, Miyazawa visited South Korea, and in his meeting with South Korean President Roh Tae-woo, Miyazawa used the words "remorse and apology" eight times, according to the announcement by South Korean officials.
Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a Chuo University professor, confirmed the existence of the documents at the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies in late December 1991. He contacted a reporter, 57, at the Asahi's City News Section whom he knew and explained the gist of the documents. The reporter considered writing the article by the end of the year, but decided against it because the documents were not in hand and other information gathering was still insufficient.
On Jan. 6, 1992, Yoshimi found different documents at the library and informed the reporter. The reporter visited the library on Jan. 7 and directly confirmed the contents of the documents and photographed them. The article appeared on Jan. 11 after further interviews with relevant officials and specialists.
According to the report of the government study into the compilation of the Kono statement, on Jan. 7, 1992, the same day the reporter went to the library, a report was submitted to the central government about the existence of the documents indicating military involvement.
Since December 1991, the central government had been told by South Korea that "it would be preferable to implement measures beforehand so that the comfort women issue does not become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea." That led to the start of the investigation by various government ministries and agencies.
In his book "Ianfu to Senjo no Sei" (Comfort women and sex on the battlefield), Ikuhiko Hata, the historian of the contemporary period, pointed out that running the article immediately before the prime minister's visit to South Korea was a "sneak attack" and "surprise move." He wrote "it can be assumed that the information was kept quiet for more than two weeks after it was obtained."
Some newspapers also reported that the Asahi article served as a catalyst for turning the issue into a diplomatic matter between Japan and South Korea.
However, the article was published five days after the reporter obtained detailed information. The reporter said, "With the government not acknowledging involvement, I thought the discovery of a document showing military involvement was newsworthy, and I wrote the article immediately after gathering the necessary information."
Moreover, the central government was aware of the existence of the documents even before the article appeared and had begun moving to deal with the possibility that the comfort women issue could become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea.
One of the documents introduced in the article was a directive issued to deployed troops in 1938 in the name of a senior adjutant to the Minister of War. The document asked that measures be taken to protect the prestige of the military by remaining in close contact with the military and regular police when choosing agents to recruit comfort women in Japan. That was because some agents had been questioned by the police after hurting the prestige of the military by saying "we have the approval of the military."
In his book "Yokuwakaru Ianfu Mondai" (The comfort women issue explained in an easy-to-understand manner), Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean area studies at Tokyo Christian University, presented his view that the document "was intended to stop agents from committing illegal acts. While it was involvement, it was ‘involvement with good intentions.'"
However, Kazu Nagai, a professor at Kyoto University, rejects the view of "involvement with good intentions." Nagai pays attention to a document issued around the same time under the name of the head of the Home Ministry bureau in charge of the police. While allowing for the recruitment and transport abroad of comfort women, the document also instructed "a serious crackdown of those individuals who claim to have the approval of the military" must be undertaken.
Nagai points out that the document asked the police to keep watch on agents to make sure they did not tell outsiders about their relationship with the military. Regarding the Army Ministry document that was reported by the Asahi, Nagai presents his view in the book "Nicchu Senso kara Sekai Senso e" (From the Japan-China war to world war) that "the document gave instructions to the military command to implement thorough notification of the regulation policy taken by police toward recruitment agents, which was a policy to conceal the relationship between comfort stations and the military/state."
In a short explanation about a keyword that was part of the Jan. 11, 1992, Asahi article, there is wording that said about comfort women, "they were mainly Korean women who were forcibly taken away under the name of volunteer corps. The numbers are said to be between 80,000 and 200,000."
There is criticism that the Asahi confused volunteer corps with comfort women. (An explanation about the confusion will be given in the next section.) While there is also discussion about the number of comfort women, there are only the estimates of researchers because there are no official records. (This is explained in the earlier section titled "What is the ‘comfort women' issue all about?"
To our readers
The article was published five days after the reporter learned the details about the information and was not intended to coincide with Miyazawa's visit to South Korea. The central government had also received a report about the existence of the documents even before the article ran. The central government had been told by the South Korean side since December 1991 that it was preferable to implement measures beforehand so the comfort women issue did not become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea. The central government had also begun consideration of such measures.
Confusion with 'volunteer corps': Insufficient research at that time led to comfort women and volunteer corps seen as the same
Question: Some articles that appeared in The Asahi Shimbun in the early 1990s regarding comfort women from the Korean Peninsula said the women were mobilized under the name of "women volunteer corps." Although it is now clear that comfort women and women volunteer corps were different, why did such an error occur?
* * *
"Women volunteer corps" refer to the "women volunteer labor corps" that were organized to mobilize women as a work force during the war in Japan proper as well as in the former colonies on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. With the August 1944 "women volunteer labor order," the corps became a system based on the National Mobilization Law.
Even before then, such corps were organized at schools and in local communities. On the Korean Peninsula, as many as 4,000 students at elementary schools and girls' high schools are said to have been mobilized to work at munitions factories in Japan proper until the end of the war. (Note 1) With the objective of using the women as a work force, the corps were different from comfort women who were made to serve as sexual partners for military personnel.
However, in 1991, when attention was focused on the comfort women issue, the Asahi confused the two. In the Dec. 10, 1991, morning edition, an article about comfort women from the Korean Peninsula said "they were mobilized to the front lines of combat under such names as 'women volunteer corps' from immediately before the start of World War II and were forced into prostitution at comfort stations serving Japanese military personnel."
In the Jan. 11, 1992, morning edition, an article said "with the start of the Pacific War, mainly Korean women were forcibly taken away under the name of volunteer corps. The numbers are said to be between 80,000 and 200,000."
The reason for the confusion was insufficient research. There were very few specialists researching comfort women, so there was insufficient digging up of history. While the Asahi did publish articles about former Japanese volunteer corps members who worked at factories in Japan, research on the volunteer corps on the Korean Peninsula was not at an advanced stage.
A reference material used by Asahi reporters was titled "Chosen wo Shiru Jiten" (Encyclopedia to learn about Korea) (first edition published by Heibonsha Ltd. in 1986). Regarding comfort women, the volume explained "from 1943, about 200,000 Korean women were mobilized as workers under the name of 'women volunteer corps,' and of that number between 50,000 and 70,000 young single women were made into comfort women."
The author of that entry was Setsuko Miyata, a researcher of modern Korean history. Looking back, she said, "Because I could not locate a researcher of comfort women, I could only quote from existing works."
Miyata quoted from a work by Kako Senda titled "Jugun Ianfu" (Military comfort women). That book has a passage that says "the women were gathered under the name of 'volunteer corps' … . Of the total of 200,000 gathered (estimates in South Korea), it is said 'between 50,000 and 70,000' were made into comfort women."
The term "volunteer corps" was used in the sense of "comfort women" in newspaper coverage in Korea in 1946. In explanatory documents related to the July 1944 Cabinet decision to amend the government organization of the Government General of Korea, a passage mentions the spread of "groundless rumors" that unwed women were being requisitioned to serve as comfort women.
While no example has been confirmed of volunteer corps members being made systematically into comfort women, there is the view that a distrust of Japanese colonial authority resulted in an equating of the two, fanning fear from during the war. (Note 2)
Some say one factor behind the confusion is the fact that one group supporting former comfort women has included the word for volunteer corps in its Korean name. (The group's English name is the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.)
In January 1992, shortly before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa visited South Korea, a South Korean news agency released an article about the discovery of a school roster that showed a 12-year-old Korean girl who went to an elementary school was mobilized to join the volunteer corps. That led to the misunderstanding that "Japan had made even elementary school students into comfort women" and worsened anti-Japanese sentiment.
Since 1993, The Asahi Shimbun has made efforts to avoid confusing the two. The chief of the Seoul bureau, 72, of that time said, "That's partly because interviews by citizens groups uncovered a situation in which women who worked at munitions factories in Japan as members of the volunteer corps suffered because they were mistakenly viewed as 'having been taken advantage of for sexual comfort of the Japanese military.'"
Note 1: Soji Takasaki "'Hanto Joshi Kinro Teishintai' ni tsuite" (A Study on the "Korean Girls Volunteer Corps") on Digital Museum "The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women's Fund"
Note 2: Takeshi Fujinaga "Senjiki Chosen ni okeru 'Ianfu' Doin no 'Ryugen' 'Zogen' wo megutte" (Related to 'rumors' and 'made-up words' about mobilizing 'comfort women' in wartime Korea) in the volume compiled by Toshihiko Matsuda, etc. titled "Chiiki Shakai kara Miru Teikoku Nihon to Shokuminchi Chosen/Taiwan/Manshu" (Imperial Japan and the colonies Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria as viewed from local society) (Shibunkaku Co. 2013)
To our readers
Women volunteer corps refer to the "women volunteer labor corps" that were mobilized to work at munitions factories and at other locations during the war. They are completely different from comfort women. The term was used mistakenly because research on the comfort women issue was not at an advanced stage at that time and because there was confusion between comfort women and volunteer corps members even in reference materials used by reporters.
'First testimony by former comfort woman': No twisting of facts in article
Question: Takashi Uemura, a former reporter for The Asahi Shimbun, reported on testimony by a former comfort woman even before the South Korean media. However, there has been criticism that he wrote the article by using his relationship with his mother-in-law, a South Korean who supported lawsuits by former comfort women, and intentionally concealing inconvenient facts.
* * *
One article that has been described as problematic was the top article on the city news page of the Aug. 11, 1991, edition published by Asahi's Osaka head office. The article ran with the headline "Tears still well up when I remember, a former South Korean military comfort woman finally opens up half-century after end of war."
The article was about testimony given by a former comfort woman. She spoke for the first time about her experiences to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Teitaikyo). Uemura said he listened to a taped recording of the testimony on Aug. 10 and wrote the article. At that time, he was a reporter in the City News Section of the Osaka head office and was in South Korea on business.
Under condition of anonymity, he gained information about the testimony by the former comfort woman and published the article even before the South Korean media.
The major points raised by those critical of the article are: 1) He was provided favors by his mother-in-law, who was a high-ranking official of an organization that provided support for lawsuits filed by former comfort women, and 2) the article hid the fact the former comfort woman attended a school for "kisaeng" (Korean female entertainers) and was written as if she was forcibly taken away even though she had been sold through human trafficking.
According to Uemura, about six months before the article appeared in August, he married the daughter of Yang Sun-im, who was a high-ranking official of the Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families.
Teitaikyo was established mainly by female researchers for the purpose of supporting former comfort women. The Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families was a completely different organization made up of victims who had been drafted or requisitioned during the war as well as their bereaved family members.
Regarding how he proceeded with the news gathering, Uemura said: "I went to South Korea after I was contacted by the then chief of the Seoul bureau who had been informed about the testimony by the former comfort woman from Teitaikyo. I never received any information from my mother-in-law."
In order to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the former comfort woman subsequently became a member of the Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families when Yang served as a high-ranking official.
Uemura said: "I covered the story of the former comfort woman as part of my ongoing coverage of various issues related to wartime compensation. I never undertook any reporting with the objective of benefiting my mother-in-law and others."
Uemura returned to Japan on Aug. 12, a day after the article appeared. On Aug. 14, a Seoul correspondent with the Hokkaido Shimbun gained an exclusive interview with the former comfort woman and ran a scoop that named her as Kim Hak-sun. Major South Korean newspapers also ran long articles on her in their Aug. 15 editions.
In the previous summer, Uemura visited South Korea in an attempt to gain the testimony of former comfort women. However, he returned to Japan without interviewing them. He wrote in detail about his news-gathering attempt in the November 1991 edition of MILE, a monthly magazine that covers issues related to the Korean Peninsula. At that time, no criticism had yet emerged about Uemura's article.
The other criticism about the Aug. 11, 1991, article concerns a passage that said "she was a ‘Korean military comfort woman' who was forced to engage in acts of prostitution with Japanese military personnel after being taken to the combat zone under the name of ‘women volunteer corps.'" Critics said the article intentionally ignores the fact that she was sold as a kisaeng and gives the impression she was forcibly taken away by the state as a member of the volunteer corps.
The previous section touched upon the confusion that existed between comfort women and volunteer corps members. At that time, there was also confusion in South Korea over the two, and Uemura misused the term.
Kim, the former comfort woman, first revealed "I spent three years at a kisaeng school from the time I was 14" on Aug. 14, 1991, when she responded to questions from Hokkaido Shimbun and the South Korean media. The kisaeng school is a facility where girls learn how to entertain guests at parties.
According to research in South Korea, there was a difference between kisaeng who obtained the qualification after leaving school and prostitutes. There were some kisaeng who engaged in acts of prostitution because they faced economic difficulties. In Japan after the end of the war, prostitution tours to South Korea were dubbed "kisaeng tourism" and were criticized.
Regarding why he did not touch upon the kisaeng background in the August 1991 article, Uemura said, "I did not hear Kim talk about the kisaeng school in the testimony tape recording." He added: "I never knew about that. I never intentionally ignored it." He said he only learned about it from subsequent reporting in other newspapers.
On Dec. 6, 1991, when Kim filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, she included a passage in the lawsuit about going to the kisaeng school. After the lawsuit was filed, Uemura wrote an article for page 5 of the Dec. 25, 1991, morning edition published by the Osaka head office in which he describes in detail how Kim became a comfort woman and how she suffered subsequently. But he did not mention anything about the kisaeng school.
Uemura said, "I did not subscribe to the notion that she could not help being made a comfort woman because she was a kisaeng." He added, "Kim originally said that she was made a comfort woman because she was tricked." He wrote about that fact in the August article.
Also on Dec. 6, 1991, an article written by a different reporter appeared on the front page of the evening edition. But that article also had no mention of kisaeng. While other reporters besides Uemura have subsequently written articles about Kim, there has been no mention of kisaeng.
To our readers
There was no intentional twisting of the facts in the article by Uemura. The catalyst for eventually writing the August 1991 article was the provision of information by the chief of the Seoul bureau of that time. He did not obtain any special information through his relationship with his mother-in-law.
Reporting by other newspapers
To look into how other newspapers covered the comfort women issue, microfilm kept at the National Diet Library and databases of the various companies that allow for searches were used to check articles that appeared, particularly since the late 1980s, in the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun and the Sankei Shimbun.
The thrust of the research focuses on three main points looked into by The Asahi Shimbun in this special coverage. The points are: how was the late Seiji Yoshida covered; was there confusion between "comfort women" and "women volunteer corps"; and was the term "forcible taking away " used in reporting on the comfort women issue.
Yoshida gave testimony that he "hunted comfort women" on Jeju Island in South Korea. The Sankei, which has criticized the Asahi's past coverage of Yoshida, ran a series of articles in its evening edition published by the Osaka head office in 1993 under the title "Thoughts on human rights."
This Sankei series included wide coverage of Yoshida. The theme of the series was "thinking along with ‘witnesses' about war, which is the greatest infringement of human rights, and re-examining it."
An article that appeared in the Sept. 1, 1993, edition had a headline of "Victimizer, an endless pilgrimage of apology" and included a photo of Yoshida apologizing to Kim Hak-sun, the former comfort woman. He was introduced as "'a witness' who has revealed taking away roughly more than 1,000 women from Jeju Island, South Korea, to serve as comfort women."
While the article pointed out that "some voices had begun to raise doubts about the reliability (of his testimony)," it added "it cannot be said that forcible taking away did not exist even if there is no testimony from the victims. It is certain that Yoshida holds an important key as a witness."
The series received the 1st Sakata commemorative journalism award given to outstanding reporting based in the Kansai region. The series was turned into a book published by the Buraku Liberation Publishing House Co. in 1994.
The Yomiuri also carried an article about Yoshida in its Aug. 15, 1992, evening edition. The headline was "Theme is comfort women, a meeting to think about ‘war victims.'" The article said, "Seiji Yoshida, who headed the mobilization section at the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Romu Hokokukai labor organization talked about taking away 100 Korean women to Hainan island by telling them ‘you will receive a good salary as a general maid doing laundry and preparing meals at a hospital.'"
The Mainichi also carried articles in its morning editions of Aug. 12 and 13 in 1992 reporting on Yoshida's visit in the same month to South Korea to apologize.
There was also confusion over "comfort women" and "volunteer corps" in the early 1990s.
The Yomiuri, which criticized past articles in the Asahi for confusing the two terms, published an article in its Aug. 26, 1991, morning edition with the headline "Shedding light on ‘military comfort women,' active movements in Japan, South Korea such as compiling collection of documents and organizing symposiums." The article said, "During the Pacific War, Korean women were gathered under the name of ‘women volunteer corps' and sent to the front lines as military comfort women. While the number is said to have been 200,000, the actual situation is still unclear."
In an article that appeared in the Jan. 16, 1992, morning edition about Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's visit to South Korea, there is also confusion about the two terms with such a passage as "during the war, there were said to be between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean military comfort women who were forcibly taken away under the name of ‘volunteer corps.'"
In an article that appeared in the Mainichi's Dec. 13, 1991, morning edition under the "People" section about Kim Hak-sun, the former comfort woman, a passage said: "Women 14 years old and above were taken away from the Korean Peninsula under such names as volunteer corps and made military comfort women. The number is said to be 200,000, and they were left behind on the battlefield after the end of the war."
The Asahi inquired about the present understanding of the three newspaper companies toward the articles that have been mentioned here. The Mainichi and Sankei submitted the following responses, but there was no response from the Yomiuri.
Comment from the official in charge of public relations in the president's office of the Mainichi Shimbun: All of the articles reported on events that happened at that time, so there is nothing we can comment about at this time.
Comment from the public relations department of the Sankei Shimbun: The articles in question not only introduced the testimony and actions of Seiji Yoshida, but also pointed out the voices of doubt over its reliability. Subsequently, we have reported that his testimony was a ‘fabrication' and ‘fiction' on the basis of further information-gathering and research by scholars."
Citizens groups opposed Asian Women's Fund
From an early stage, the Japanese government was considering providing financial aid to former comfort women as a token of "apology," but no concrete steps were taken to set a system in place until the Tomiichi Murayama administration came into being in 1994. In October that year, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Socialist Party and New Party Sakigake began discussing the matter in the "Subcommittee to Address Wartime Comfort Women Issue" that was set up as part of the project team to deal with the issues related to 50 years after the war.
The Japanese government has always taken the stand that all matters related to South Korea's claims for wartime compensation have been completely settled under the Japan-South Korea agreement on property and claim rights and other agreements, and that the Japanese government bears no further legal responsibility.
Citizens groups in Japan and South Korea called for "government reparations," and the Japan Socialist Party, of which Prime Minister Murayama was a member, also insisted on them. However, in order to advance "matters concerning Japan's postwar responsibility," the party compromised and agreed to collect donations from the private sector.
In June 1995, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi announced the establishment of a foundation, tentatively named "Josei no Tameno Ajia Heiwa Yuko Kikin (the Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women)." The arrangement was that the foundation's capital would rely on private donations, while the Japanese government would chip in to finance medical care and welfare programs.
In reference to these programs, the South Korean government issued a statement to the effect that the Japanese government showed "sincerity" in that a "public element was being introduced into the foundation in the form of Japanese government funding for some of the programs."
A former South Korean ambassador to Japan described the Japanese government's decision as "something that was possible only under a coalition government that includes the Japan Socialist Party," and the South Korean government also praised the foundation at first.
‘Demand for government reparations'
In July 1995, the foundation was officially established as the Asian Women's Fund. But the differences in how Japan and South Korea viewed the fund began to grow as the fund entered full operations.
From the time the fund was still on the drawing board, Japanese as well as South Korean groups supporting former comfort women were critical of it, saying that "since the fund was not a vehicle for the payment of government reparations, it allowed the Japanese government's responsibility to remain vague." The most vocal critic of the fund was the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Teitaikyo), which demanded punishment for individuals who were responsible for the matter. Their differences were never ironed out.
The fact that the Japanese government--which did not acknowledge its legal responsibility--kept explaining the fund as a "private-sector project" came across to the former comfort women's support groups as an indication that the Japanese government was evading responsibility. And the objectives of the fund were further misunderstood by the South Korean public when South Korean media translated the "atonement money" being paid by the fund as "iro-kin" (bonus).
However, not all former comfort women agreed with Teitaikyo's stance.
In January 1997, a closed ceremony was held in Seoul for the first time to present atonement money and medical care expenses to former comfort women who wished to receive them. According to sources, a letter of apology from Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was read out in Korean, and the women--dressed formally in traditional Korean "chima" and "jeogori"--wept uncontrollably or expressed great joy.
But when the ceremony was made public after the fact, South Korean society reacted with outrage. The names of the seven women who took the money were disclosed, and they were vilified in harsh terms. "You sold your soul for money," they were told. "The victim becomes a licensed prostitute if she takes sympathy money from those who refuse to acknowledge their guilt."
The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement deploring the fact that the fund went ahead with its plans to pay money "in disregard of the wishes of our government and the great majority of the victims." At a meeting of the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea that took place immediately after the ceremony, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Chong-ha demanded the suspension of payment from the fund.
Independent fund raising
This sudden hardening of the South Korean government's stance owed partly to the rapid deterioration of Japan-South Korea relations over another issue.
When Japan decided in early 1996 to define its exclusive economic zone, the territorial dispute was rekindled over the Takeshima islands. Amid a surge of anti-Japanese movements at home, the South Korean government was forced to heed the voices of citizens groups. An official who was in charge of Japanese affairs at the time later recalled, "President Kim Young-sam only stressed investigating the truth and stopped allowing (the former comfort women) to accept atonement money."
Teitaikyo and other support groups began their own fund-raising drives in defiance of the Asian Women's Fund. In May 1998, the South Korean government began paying 31.5 million won (about 3.12 million yen) in government aid and 4.18 million won (about 410,000 yen) in privately collected donations to each woman, but this was only for women who had no intention of receiving money from the Asian Women's Fund. This made it considerably harder for the fund to run its activities.
In May 2002, the Asian Women's Fund completed its programs in South Korea. Murayama, who was the fund's president at the time, told a news conference that "the fund had faced many difficulties but was able to fulfill its act of atonement to the former comfort women who agreed to accept the money."
The Asian Women's Fund was established in July 1995 in response to the Kono statement. The fund handed to each former comfort woman a letter of apology from the Japanese prime minister, together with 2 million yen in atonement money donated by the Japanese public and 1.2 million yen to 3 million yen in medical care expenses financed by the Japanese government as part of its medical care and welfare program.
In South Korea, the fund made payments to 61 out of 207 women who had been officially recognized by the South Korean government as former comfort women (as of 2002). But since they were severely criticized by their fellow citizens or denied South Korean government benefits if they announced they were taking money from the fund, the whole exercise had to be conducted behind the scenes.
There were 13 recipients in Taiwan and 211 in the Philippines. In the Netherlands, 79 women accepted medical care expenses only. In Indonesia, the difficulty of determining former comfort women resulted in the establishment of a facility for the elderly.
The South Korean government praised the contents of the Kono statement
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono heads to the news conference to announce the statement issued under his name on Aug. 4, 1993. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
One event that triggered stronger opposition in South Korea over the comfort women issue occurred at the Upper House Budget Committee in June 1990. As greater attention was focused on the comfort women issue in South Korea due to articles that appeared in The Hankyoreh newspaper, Tsutao Shimizu, the director-general of the Employment Security Bureau of the Labor Ministry, said at the Budget Committee session about comfort women, "Although it appears there existed the situation of private-sector businesses working together with the military to move them around, we are unable to investigate what actually happened."
A major uproar arose in South Korean public opinion, and the issue began to be debated in the Diet.
In December 1991, former comfort women filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government. The Cabinet Councilors' Office on External Affairs began an investigation into documents related to comfort women.
According to the report of the government study into the compilation of the Kono statement, South Korea inquired at that time about the possibility for an apology. Although the Japanese side informally considered the possibility that "it would be appropriate to have the prime minister virtually admit to involvement by the Japanese military and express feelings of remorse and disappointment," it never did demonstrate its policy to foreign nations.
On Jan. 11, 1992, The Asahi Shimbun ran an article about a directive issued by the former Japanese military that was found at the National Institute for Defense Studies and said "the state was involved" in the comfort stations. Although the central government also confirmed the same document on Jan. 7, Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara discussed the matter on Jan. 11. The scheduled visit to South Korea by Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was nearing, and Ishihara proposed, "Let us make a rough apology."
When he was a youth, Kato was told directly by a former soldier about the use of comfort stations, so he agreed with Ishihara. On the evening of Jan. 11, Kato admitted for the first time involvement by the Japanese military.
In response to a question from the Asahi, he said, "We cannot deny involvement by the military of that time." At his meeting with the South Korean president on Jan. 17, Miyazawa made an official apology.
On July 6, 1992, the Japanese government announced the results of its investigation that had started in December 1991.
Kato said, "There was government involvement in the establishment of comfort stations, the regulating of those who were in charge of recruiting, the construction and expansion of comfort facilities, the management and oversight of comfort stations, public health control and the issuing of ID cards, etc."
The South Korean government said, "We praise the efforts," but called for further investigation by saying, "It has not yet reached a point of clarifying the overall picture of the issue."
South Korea was not completely satisfied with the results of the investigation, and said: "We ask that further efforts be made to clarify the facts, including whether coercion was involved during recruitment. We are concerned about the trend in South Korean public opinion regarding the fact that the investigation results do not contain examples of clear cases of forcible taking away of women that were found in the testimony."
In mid-October, the South Korean government said, "The explanation that ‘We are unsure about the existence of coercion because no documents could be found' is viewed by the South Korean people as a sign that true efforts have not been made."
In late October, Japan informed South Korea that it had decided to pursue the policy of saying "while it is difficult to clearly certify the existence of coercion, the existence of some elements of coercion cannot be denied."
Japan was now faced with the task of how to respond to the requests made by South Korea.
In January 1993, Japan began interviewing individuals with ties to the military, the Korea Government-General and management of the comfort stations. However, those individuals denied "forcible taking away in the narrow sense of the term," such as something close to kidnapping by public authorities. Thereafter, documents related to the Korean Peninsula were never uncovered.
Around February, the Foreign Ministry compiled an internal document that said, "It cannot be denied that there were cases of being made military comfort women in a form that went against their will." In a March session of the Upper House Budget Committee, Sakutaro Tanino, who headed the Cabinet Councilors' Office on External Affairs, said, "Coercion does not only mean the use of physical means but also includes a wider range of situations that go against the free will of the individual by threatening or invoking a sense of awe."
That led to the start of consideration about incorporating a wider sense of coercion. Toward the end of the previous year, South Korea had also said, "It is important to recognize that they became comfort women against their will."
The Japanese government began work to compile a statement in the name of the chief Cabinet secretary that would express its thinking on coercion and an apology to the comfort women. The decision was also made to conduct interviews of former comfort women, as requested by South Korea, in order to "show a sincere posture and deeply understand their feelings, rather than uncover the facts."
‘Apology and remorse'
The statement was compiled through interaction with South Korea responding to various inquiries made by Japan. For example, the original draft had "express a heartfelt apology," but South Korea expressed its thinking that the addition of a "feeling of remorse" would be better. Japan agreed to that change.
On the other hand, regarding the recruitment of comfort women, South Korea proposed that it was handled by "the military or businesses that received instructions from the military." Japan rejected that proposal on the grounds that such recruitment was mainly conducted by businesses that responded to the intention of the military, not by the military itself.
Coordination between the two sides progressed "within the limits that did not distort the facts."
However, documents from military tribunals contained examples showing that the military had used force to make Dutch women comfort women in occupied Indonesia.
The government referred to those materials, and the statement said, in relation to the recruitment of comfort women, "at times, government authorities and others directly took part in the recruitments."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued the statement on Aug. 4, shortly before the formation of the Hosokawa administration, which was established after the Liberal Democratic Party was forced into the opposition for the first time since its formation.
On the eve of the announcement, South Korea passed on to the Japanese side its view that "President Kim Young-sam praises it, and the South Korean government is satisfied."
Ishihara later reflected that "the issue has reached a certain resolution."
The statement said about comfort women "their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc. … (The government would like to) extend its sincere apologies and remorse."
The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said: "It recognizes overall coercion. Along with the apology and remorse, we praise the expression of the will to use it as a lesson of history."
* * *
Letter from the prime minister to the former comfort women
On the occasion that the Asian Women's Fund, in cooperation with the Government and the people of Japan, offers atonement from the Japanese people to the former wartime comfort women, I wish to express my feelings as well.
The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women.
As Prime Minister of Japan, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
We must not evade the weight of the past, nor should we evade our responsibilities for the future.
I believe that our country, painfully aware of its moral responsibilities, with feelings of apology and remorse, should face up squarely to its past history and accurately convey it to future generations.
Furthermore, Japan also should take an active part in dealing with violence and other forms of injustice to the honor and dignity of women.
Finally, I pray from the bottom of my heart that each of you will find peace for the rest of your lives.
(Signed by the prime minister of that time. Those who served as prime minister were Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi.)
* * *
Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the result of the study on the issue of "comfort women"
August 4, 1993
The Government of Japan has been conducting a study on the issue of wartime "comfort women" since December 1991. I wish to announce the findings as a result of that study.
As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.
As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.
Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.
We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterate our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.
As actions have been brought to court in Japan and interests have been shown in this issue outside Japan, the Government of Japan shall continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched related thereto.
(From the Foreign Ministry website)