Deny­ing ‘com­fort women’ stains Ja­pan honor: Kono


Ja­pan must face up to the truth over its wartime sys­tem of sex slav­ery if it is to purge the stain of its past wrongs, the man who is­sued a land­mark apol­ogy said Tues­day.

Yo­hei Kono, who as chief Cabi­net sec­re­tary in 1993 of­fered Ja­pan’s fullest mea culpa for its wartime en­slave­ment of up to 200,000 mainly Asian women, said Tokyo must not shy away from its re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“In re­la­tions with South Korea and China, we have to start with fac­ing up to the truth, facts,” Kono, who later served as deputy prime min­is­ter, told jour­nal­ists in Tokyo.

“Not ac­cept­ing facts, deny­ing what has un­doubt­edly hap­pened ... or say­ing it was all right to do it be­cause oth­ers did it ... this kind of (be­hav­ior) is a stain on the honor of Ja­pan and its peo­ple.”

Kono was speak­ing as na­tion­al­ist Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe pre­pares to make what he says will be a “for­ward-look­ing” state­ment on the 70th an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s WWII de­feat this sum­mer.

Abe has said he agrees with pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment pro­nounce­ments on the con­flict, but does not think it ap­pro­pri­ate to con­tin­u­ally apol­o­gize for events more than seven decades ago.

Kono’s in­ter­ven­tion came as a poll of the public in Ja­pan and South Korea showed sky-high lev­els of dis­trust be­tween them, and dim views of the state of re­la­tions.

A record 73 per­cent of Ja­panese say their neigh­bor is un­trust­wor­thy, while 85 per­cent of South Kore­ans do not trust Tokyo, a joint sur­vey by the Yomi­uri Shimbun and Hankook Ilbo dailies said.

The poll showed 61 per­cent of Ja­panese and 74 per­cent of South Kore­ans be­lieve their coun­tries’ cur­rent “bad re­la­tion­ship” is “in­evitable as long as the other side con­tin­ues to make un­ac­cept­able claims.”

Gen­uine Con­tri­tion

Main­stream his­to­ri­ans agree that around 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from other Asian na­tions, were sys­tem­at­i­cally raped by Ja­pan’s im­pe­rial forces in mil­i­tary broth­els dur­ing World War II.

The “Kono State­ment” ac­knowl­edged this ex­plic­itly and was seen as a huge step for­ward in help­ing to soothe the open wounds of his- tory that score East Asia’s body politic.

Ja­panese con­ser­va­tives — many of whom sup­port Abe — tend to ac­cept the ex­is­tence of the broth­els, but say ei­ther that they were staffed by or­di­nary pros­ti­tutes or that the Ja­panese state and its mil­i­tary were not for­mally in­volved in their run­ning.

Ap­par­ent equiv­o­ca­tion on the is­sue by se­nior Ja­panese politi­cians, in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter, has caused anger in Korea and in China, which also suf­fered un­der Ja­pan’s wartime yoke.

Seoul in­sists the win­dow for gen­uine con­tri­tion is closing as the few dozen sur­viv­ing for­mer “com­fort women” be­come in­creas­ingly old and frail.

But com­men­ta­tors Ja­panese peo­ple are sug­gest suf­fer­ing from what they call “Kore­afa­tigue,” and are tired of Seoul’s de­mands for re­peated apolo­gies for wrongs com­mit­ted by ear­lier gen­er­a­tions.

At the same press con­fer­ence Tues­day, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tomi­ichi Mu­rayama, who is­sued a touch­stone apol­ogy in 1995 for im­pe­rial Ja­pan’s war­ring, also called on Abe to take a more con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach.

Diplo­matic ties with South Korea — es­tab­lished 50 years ago this month — were “im­prov­ing in var­i­ous ways” af­ter the two mid-90s state­ments, he said.

But that im­prove­ment has fal­tered in re­cent years. “I am gen­uinely dis­ap­pointed at this,” he said.

“As with (Abe) has said he agrees pre­vi­ous state­ments, he should (re­peat them) and erase in­ter­na­tional ques­tions and misun- der­stand­ings” about his po­si­tion, Mu­rayama said.


Ja­pan’s for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tomi­ichi Mu­rayama, right, speaks as for­mer Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yo­hei Kono lis­tens dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Ja­pan Na­tional Press Club in Tokyo on Tues­day, June 9.

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