New controversies are emerging in Japan’s long contentious debate about comfort women.
A recent New York Times article, entitled “Rewriting the War, Japanese Right Attacks a Newspaper,” highlights the plight of Takashi Uemura. The 56-year-old former journalist worked at the left-leaning Asahi newspaper when he was 33 years old. At the time, the paper published his most famous article: titled “Remembering Still Brings Tears,” it “was one of the first to tell the story of a former ‘comfort woman’ from Korea.” The Times article said that Uemura has been threatened with violence by member’s of Japan’s political right wing, which denies that these “comfort women” were forced into prostitution in territories occupied by WWII-era Japanese soldiers. His contract at the small Hokusei Gakuen University in Hokkaido is under review following a series of bomb threats, and the story added that a slew of anonymous neo-con social media messages are urging the public to “to drive (Uemura’s) teenage daughter to suicide.”
Uemura told the NYT: “They are using intimidation as a way to deny history… They want to bully us into silence.”
The Asahi has buckled under that pressure, retracting a number of previous articles about comfort women (although Uemura’s piece was not among them). Instead of accepting the gesture, Japan’s right wing has used it as leverage to call for a boycott of The Asahi that it hopes will force the publication to fold. So far the ploy has been effective, driving the paper’s daily circulation down by 230,797.
An earlier NYT article scathingly rebuked this conservative movement. Titled “The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth,” the November 14 editorial criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s appointment of a former scholar of the comfort women’s plight to chair a commission refuting his father’s research (that elder scholar happens to be former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone).
The editorial went on to add, “The official narrative in Japan is fast becoming detached from reality, as it seeks to cast the Japanese people—rather than the comfort women of the Asia-Pacific theater—as the victims of this story. The Abe administration sees this historical revision as integral to restoring Japan’s imperial wartime honor and modern-day national pride. But the broader effect of the campaign has been to cause Japan to back away from international efforts against human rights abuses and to weaken its desire to be seen as a responsible partner in prosecuting possible war crimes.”
Of course, the Times is not the only publication focusing on this issue. On October 26, Scholars In English posted a translated summary of Professor Park Yuha’s new book Comfort Women of the Empire. In it, the professor notes some of the Asahi’s mistakes while reporting on the issue, and the paper’s retractions of those errors. But Park’s focus lies with the approximately 50,000 women, half of whom were Japanese and half of whom were Korean and Taiwanese, who were forced to work at “comfort stations” for the occupying soldiers. It noted also noted that many of these victims were teenagers.
Members of Japan’s left wing are hoping to fight against what they call an ultra-national revision of history. But Jiro Yamaguchi, a political scientist who spearheaded a petition to support Uemura, told the NYT that other activists may be forced into silence before they can enact meaningful change. Yamaguchi added: “Abe is using The Asahi’s problems to intimidate other media into self-censorship… This is a new form of McCarthyism.”
—By Kyle Mullin