Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Addressing Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’ Issue From an Academic Standpoint Tessa Morris-Suzuki Contesting the Kōno Statement

The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 9, No. 1, March 2, 2014.

Addressing Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’ Issue From an Academic Standpoint

Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Contesting the Kōno Statement
On 4 August 1993, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei issued an official declaration on the issue of the so-called 'comfort women' - women recruited to work in a large network of brothels operated by the Japanese military during the Asia-Pacific War, where many suffered terrible sexual and other physical and mental abuse, and many died. The declaration, based on a study conducted by the Japanese government, read in part as follows:
Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day... The Government study has revealed that in many cases [the comfort women] were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.
The Kōno Declaration went on to express the government's 'sincere apologies and remorse' to the women concerned, and to say:
We shall face squarely the historical facts as deve instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.
Kōno's statement resulted not only from demands for an apology from countries like Korea, where many 'comfort women' had been recruited, but also from the work of many grassroots groups within Japan, who had worked tirelessly to seek recompense for the victims. The study carried out by the Japanese government involved the collection of official documents showing army involvement in the control and running of the 'comfort station' system. Testimony was also collected from sixteen former 'comfort women' in Korea, but not from victims of the system in more than a dozen other Asian countries.

Korean comfort women and Jan Ruff-O’Herne visiting Japan around 1993
Ever since 1993, the Kōno Declaration has been a target of the Japanese political right, who insist that it dishonored Japan's dignity. In 2007, during the first Abe administration, the cabinet issued a 'decision' (kakugi kettei) which partially retracted the Kōno Declaration, denying that Japanese military or government officials had been personally involved in forcible recruitment of ‘comfort women’.
On 20 February this year, Restoration Party politician Yamada Hiroshi launched a fierce and emotional attack on the Kōno Declaration in the Japanese Diet

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