Japan Battles Its Memories

Yoshiaki Yoshimi
New York Times, 3 Nov, 1992 (Excerpts)
tr. Jane Nishi Goldstone

A debate has erupted in Japan over actions of the Japanese military more than 50 years ago. the issue is "comfort women," a euphemism for the Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese women who were carried off to battlefront brothels between 1938 and 1945.

Although officially described as private enterprise, these "comfort stations" were controlled by the Japanese military....

Angered by the Japanese Government's continued denial of military involvement in running the brothels, three Korean women filed a suit in December against the Government demanding a formal apology and redress.

Moved by the courage of these former "comfort women," I went to the Self-Defense Agency's libaray in Tokyo. There, I discovered documents that demonstrate the extent of the military's involvement in the recruitment of women, the majority of whom were Korean, as well as its supervision of the brothels.

Confronted with this evidence, the Government finally admitted the truth. During his meeting with President Roh Tae Woo in South Korea in January, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa for the first time acknowledged Japan's responsibility and extended a formal apology. ...

*Yoshiaki Yoshimi is professor of Japanese history at Chuo University.

Japan Can't Face Its Past

Japan Fund for War's 'Comfort Women' Is in Crisis

New York Times 13 May, 1996

TOKYO -- To some acclaim and self-acclaim, the Japanese government started a fund last year to make payments to women forced into brothels run by the Imperial Army. The project was supposed to ease criticisms that Japan had shirked its responsibility for wartime atrocities.

But these days the program is in a crisis, and instead of easing antagonisms with Japan's neighbors, it may worsen, while raising new doubts about Japan's readiness to face its past.

The fund has raised only a fraction of the money that is necessary, its most prominent backer has resigned in protest at the government's behavior, and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto refuses to say whether he will honor a pledge by his predecessor to apologize to the former "comfort women." And some of the women have complained that the project is so insignificant as to be an insult.

Backers say that there is still a chance that more donations, which are being sought from the public and from corporations, will be raised in the coming months and that Hashimoto will agree to apologize to the women. But nearly everyone agrees that the project is at a turning point.

"If the current government says we will not send you a letter of apology, we will not give our money, then the Japanese future will become very difficult," Mutsuko Miki, the well-known widow of a former prime minister and the most prominent backer of the fund, said in a telephone interview. "In that case, I don't think Japan will be able to stand on the world stage."

Mrs. Miki, who has just resigned from the panel of backers of the fund, said she met with Hashimoto this month and decided that his ideas were so different from hers that it would be meaningless to continue.

Another longtime supporter of the fund, Yasuaki Onuma, a professor of international law at Tokyo University, said it would be a "catastrophe for Japan" if Hashimoto failed to send out letters of apology. Onuma said that the program could still be saved but that it was at a crossroads.

"It's up to the government," he said. "If the government clearly understands that the reputation of Japan depends on the success of this enterprise, it will be resolved. But if they do not understand, then we will have a terrible result."

More than 50 years after the end of World War II, Japan's wartime conduct remains a source of bitterness between Japan and other Asian countries, particularly China and North and South Korea.

One of the most sensitive issues is Japan's refusal to help the women, who were mostly teen-age girls kidnapped from farms and villages and forced to work in front-line brothels and have sex with 20 or more soldiers a day.

By some accounts, there may have been 100,000 or more such women, although many died young and only about 500 have come forward in recent years and identified themselves. Most of the women were Korean, but there were also Filipinas, Chinese and a few Dutch.

The government has refused to assist the women, on the ground that in earlier years -- long before the existence of the comfort women became public -- Tokyo had already settled all war-related claims. But embarrassed by calls at home and abroad, the government in July started a "private" Asian Women's Fund, which was authorized to gather donations and make payments to the women.

The prime minister then, Tomiichi Murayama, said he would write a letter of apology to each of the former comfort women. The fund's organizers said they expected to gather $10 million to $20 million.

But so far the fund has raised less than $3.5 million. While many individual Japanese have contributed, corporate donations have been far less than expected.

One of the problems is that some of the women -- and the organizations campaigning for them -- have denounced the fund, saying the government should compensate the women directly instead of relying on private contributions. One group of women and their supporters called the fund "an insult to the war victims and a desecration," and promised to denounce any Japanese corporations that contributed to it.

Backers of the fund say that direct government assistance is politically impossible, and that it is better to give the women some help rather than none at all.

Government officials are reluctant to discuss the fund, apparently because of the difficulties it is in, but a Foreign Ministry official, Takahisa Tsugawa, suggested that it would look more promising later on when money begins to be paid out. He added that the fund's ability to raise more than $3 million "shows that the efforts have begun to bear fruit."

Hashimoto has contributed to the fund, as have his wife and children. He said at a news conference Friday that he would offer his "utmost support" to the fund, which he described as "troubled" by its difficulty in raising money. But Mrs. Miki says Hashimoto indicated to her that he would not apologize as his predecessor had promised to do.

"The government has changed, and now they are saying totally different things," Mrs. Miki said. An official in Hashimoto's office said only that there had been no decision on whether Hashimoto would apologize to the women.

Posted by Ignatius Ding
Date: Mon, 13 May 1996 12:10:26 -0700

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