Ja­pan’s ugly truths can­not be re­tracted

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

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. cai­hong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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