Japan’s ugly truths cannot be retracted
Japan’s conservative daily Yomiuri Shimbun shocked many in the country in 2005, when it ran an editorial fulminating against then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. It said those visits were unnecessarily provocative to China and showed a willful ignorance of Japan’s dark wartime history.
Japan’s— and possibly the world’s — best-selling newspaper published a year-long series of articles reviewing the uncomfortable truth about Japan’s wartime record. And those articles formed the basis for a book, WhoWas Responsible? FromMarco Polo Bridge to PearlHarbor, which was published in Japanese, English and Chinese.
In stark words, the book damns Japanese militarists for launching the war of aggression in China and later the Pacific war ofWorldWar II, and it has the courage to unmask the unspeakable atrocities the Japanese military committed in Asia.
The Yomiuri’s efforts were widely praised for their soul-searching of what Japan can learn from its past.
But, both for the country and the newspaper itself, this learning is proving hard. Along with Japan’s government, the newspaper is now backsliding on the dark chapters of history it had dug up so deeply.
It apologized last month for its English-language daily, JapanNews (formerly Yomiuri Daily till two years ago), using the “inappropriate” and “misleading” term “sex slaves” when referring to women forced to serve as prostitutes in Japanese military-run brothels before and during the war. In Japan, they are referred to by the euphemism “comfort women”.
This came after the Asahi Shimbun, in August, retracted all its stories on “comfort women” going back decades, saying some statements by a former soldier, Seiji Yoshida, now deceased, were false, and his testimony was the basis for the articles. Yoshida claimed to have helped forcefully recruit Korean women to serve the Japanese Imperial Army during the war.
Japanese PrimeMinister Shinzo Abe blasted the Asahi, saying its articles “caused pain to many people and damaged Japan’s honor in international society”.
After the Asahi retraction, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party issued a statement demanding that newspapers worldwide correct their mistaken reports— which, they seemed to imply, was based solely on Yoshida’s testimony.
In an interviewwith The New York Times, political scientist Jiro Yamaguchi said Abe is now using Asahi Shimbun’s problems to intimidate other media outlets in Japan into self-censorship.
Abe and other conservative lawmakers and activists have a longrunning campaign against the term “sex slaves”, maintaining the women weren’t coerced.
Earlier this year, a government panel re-examined the landmark statement by Japan’s former chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, in which he apologized to former “comfort women”, saying it was not based solely on historical evidence.
In his statement, Kono stated clearly the “Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women”. In its campaign manifesto for the Dec 14 general election, the LDP announced it would increase its public relations efforts to improve Japan’s image overseas. It is committed to resolutely countering the “unwarranted accusations based on fallacies”.
When Japan’s conservative newspapers and politicians try to deny reports acknowledging women were forced to serve the Japanese soldiers before and during the war, they are reopening dark chapters that the world considers settled. The old scores are isolating Japan in the international community rather than restoring its honor.
As aWashington Post columnist said, “it is unspeakably ugly to once again deny those women their humanity by saying they were volunteers— prostitutes— and not sex slaves”.
If Yoshida’s statements are incorrect then Japan needs to think hard how to deal with other documents, narratives and testimonies by Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Dutch women, as well as its own former soldiers. In his memoir, The NeverendingNavy, for instance, former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described his wartime experiences of managing Japanese troops and building a “comfort station”.
At the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo inMarch 2007, Nakasone refused to elaborate on his war memories but said: “As a Japanese, I think it’s something Japan should apologize for… and apologize again.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun is changing itself from a truth-seeker to a whitewasher of Japan’s wartime history. This is a backward step for itself and the country that sows the seed for disregard of humanity. The author is China Daily’s Tokyo bureau chief. firstname.lastname@example.org