Time for atonement of past sinsIn August 1993, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a formal statement on the issue of wartime “comfort women,” who were mostly recruited from Korea and forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II. The statement admitted the practice had occurred and that it had “severely injured the honor and dignity of many women.” It also extended a “sincere apology and remorse” to those who suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds. However, the statement remains scorned and ignored by Japanese politicians today.
The remarkable turnaround underscores the distorted historical understanding of Japanese politicians. The incumbent prime minister and others deny a study and acknowledgement of past cruelty that was earlier drawn up after a lengthy investigation. Kono’s statement was far from satisfactory, as it failed to take legal responsibility for what happened or provide compensation for the surviving victims, but at least it was a start. Yet today’s politicians unabashedly deny its validity.
Speaking to the upper house of the legislature recently, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said there were no documents supporting the fact that women were forced to perform sexual services for the Japanese military, and that Kona’s statement was based purely on victims’ testimonies. Jin Matsubara, chairman of Japan’s National Public Safety Commission, said the cabinet should discuss revising Kono’s statement. Furthermore, in 1997, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no evidence of coercion by Japanese administrative and military authorities in using Asian women to work as wartime sex slaves. The Japanese cabinet later issued a resolution supporting this.
What we demand from Japanese politicians is an honest assessment of history. They should heed a resolution from the U.S., Canadian and Dutch legislatures calling for an apology and compensation on the issue. This is even more crucial as Abe is planning to run for leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party in hopes of reinstating the conservative party to power. He and outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, known for his extreme right-wing and distorted views on history, are being named as possible candidates for prime minister.
As yesterday marked the anniversary of the day Korea was forced by Japan to sign a treaty making it a Japanese prefecture, we hope the mistakes of the past can finally be atoned for.