Japanese politicians say Korean ‘comfort women’ claims fabricated
Statue-protest politicians urge review of apology for forced prostitution
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
A group of Japanese politicians who visited California to protest about a statue in honour of Asian "comfort women" have joined the movement demanding the government reconsider the apology made in 1993 to the victims of forced military prostitution during the second world war.
Known as the Kono Statement, after then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, the government of the day acknowledged that the Japanese military was involved in the forced recruitment of women from Japan's colonies for its military.
But summoned before the Diet on Thursday, Nobuo Ishihara, Kono's deputy, confirmed that the government did not verify accounts given by 16 South Korean women who claimed they had been forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese military - testimony that served as the basis for the apology.
That admission has provided an opportunity for the right wing in Japan to dismiss the women's stories as fabrications.
"The cause of all the trouble we see now is the Kono Statement," said Yoshiko Matsuura, a local assembly member in Tokyo and a representative of the Japan Coalition of Legislators Against Fabricated History.
"Until [Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide] Suga clarifies the background to the Kono Statement and says it is groundless, then this issue cannot be resolved," she said yesterday.
The issue of comfort women has long been a contentious one that previous Japanese governments tried to gloss over. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, has been emboldened by a large majority in the Diet and a sense among the public that Japan's neighbours are taking any opportunity to criticise it.
That has led to a backlash against the accusations of China and South Korea, in particular.
Many in Japan insist that the women were merely prostitutes who earned a good living from setting up their businesses close to military camps and that the Japanese army had nothing to do with recruiting or operating their business.
Matsuura's group put forward a document by the US Office of War Information, dated September 1944, that they claimed demonstrated that the women were just prostitutes.
That claim is undermined by a paragraph they apparently missed towards the end of the document that stated: "In the latter part of 1943, the Army issued orders that certain girls who had paid their debt could return home. Some of the girls were thus allowed to return to Korea."
Matsuura's response was that the military was involved, but only "to ensure the health" of the women.
Matsuura was one of 13 local politicians who travelled to Glendale City, California, to protest at the decision to place a bronze statue in memory of the comfort women in a park.
"It was shocking to see the stone plaque with the words 'I was a sex slave of the Japanese military'," she said, adding that the justification for the statue - the Kono Statement - was the "fairly vague" testimonies of the South Korean women.
"War is a sad event and there were a lot of sad incidents involved," she added. "But 'sex slave' is not a historical fact. Carving such an expression into the plaque and installing a 'sex slave' statue will serve as the root of evil in the future."
Matsuura claimed that local Japanese children are being bullied and suffering discrimination at the hands of Korean residents. The organisation has written to President Barack Obama asking that the statue be removed.