Japan and the denial over comfort women. Guest blogger: Susan Menadue Chun

In a speech at the United Nations in September 2013, Prime Minister Abe conveyed Japan’s willingness to be involved in U.N security actions. He also emphasized Japan’s commitment to oppose sexual violence against women in war zones. Strangely, he didn’t mention comfort women, also known as sexual slaves, women who were forced to provide sex to the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII.  How many lies must be told to cover up the truth?

The sex slave issue has become an international gender issue of grave and continuing concern. This issue needs to be confronted.

In the past month there have been three incidents concerning Japan’s attempts to cover up the comfort woman issue.

The first incident was the erection of a memorial for comfort women in Glendale, California. According to the Japanese press, there has been considerable opposition from sections of the Japanese community in California to the memorial. This may be so. However, in a conversation with Dr. Edward Chang (Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside) I was informed that the NCRR- Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress is endorsing the movement to remember comfort women. It seems that the Japanese press however does not want the Japanese public or the world to recognize that the issue is gaining worldwide support. In addition, perhaps naively the mayors of Glendale and Buena Park (another area marked for a possible memorial) have been embroiled in a scandal created by Japan’s ultra-rightist internet channel – Channel Sakura. This channel seeks to repudiate Japan’s past aggressions and opposes any form of reasonable reconciliation with Korea or China. Mayor Weaver of Glendale informed Channel Sakura that he had regrets about supporting the memorial, saying “we opened a beehive, a hornet’s nest; we just shouldn’t have done it.”(Chosun Ilbo – a Korean news source). Now, the Glendale Council is demanding his resignation for his comments. Channel Sakura then went on to interview Mayor Elizabeth Swift of Buena Park. Her attempt to be impartial failed. I have reviewed the translations on Channel Sukura (85% correct and 15% incorrect). This was in order to establish whether the Channel had manipulated her viewpoint. Unfortunately, the interviewer nudged her into appearing to be taking a very sympathetic conservative stand with Japan on the comfort woman issue. I then found that protest emails sometimes pay off! I informed Mayor Swift on how Channel Sakura manipulated the interview. She now has regrets. Hopefully she won’t be granting any more interviews to Channel Sakura.

The second incident was the agreement of the Nagoya Education Centre to accommodate an ultra-right group, the Zaitokukai, and allow an exhibition maintaining that the comfort women issue is a fabrication. Objections were to no avail. The Nagoya Education Centre then informed activists in support of comfort women that it did not want a law suit for refusing to permit the exhibition. Flyers for the event were handed out in tissue packages.

The third incident was another cover up to try and preserve Japan’s international reputation. On the 14th October, 2013 the Asahi newspaper reported a declassified official document, about Japan’s diplomatic attempts in 1993 to cover up the comfort woman issue in Indonesia. It seems that Japan wanted to snuff out any anti-Japanese sentiment linked to the comfort women issue akin to what was happening in Korea. During the Suharto regime, the Japanese Embassy was successful in obstructing the publication of a book on comfort women, by a famous Indonesian author (name blacked out in declassified document); The Japanese Embassy advised that the publication could “hurt bilateral relations”.

All of these incidents have occurred within the last month, Japan’s long term and continuing offensive to cover up the truth about comfort women is intense. Japanese politicians seem to lack consistency in any issue to do with Japan’s militarist past. They waste our precious time. Sadly time is something the aging former comfort women do not have.

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