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2012.09.14 (Fri) Print

Yoshiko Sakurai: We are for the repeal of “Kono Statement”

In response to an article written by Mr. Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum CSIS, under the title of “Korea-Japan: Enough is enough” (PacNet #56) , Ms Yoshiko Sakurai, president of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, has sent an e-mailed letter questioning his assumption about the so-called comfort women during the war. Followings are Ms. Sakurai’s letter.



There is a saying in Japan, “Do not delay to make amends for one's wrongs.” It was wrong for the Japanese government to issue a statement by the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 which spread impression to the world as if Korean “comfort women” were forcibly recruited by the military, police or other Japanese public authorities during the war. We ask for Japanese political leaders to repeal the “Kono Statement” and set the record straight in order to restore the honor of Japan and establish future-oriented Japan-Korea relationship.


The article by Mr. Ralph A. Cossa (“Korea-Japan: Enough is Enough!” PacNet #56) is based on the assumption that comfort women were “forced to become sexual slaves” for the Japanese military. The assumption contains two problems.


One is that who or what “forced” them is obscure. In the past, Korea as well as Japan was poor and not a few young women were sold out. Such a situation is not rare in poor countries in Asia even today. It was poverty which “forced” them to become comfort women. Korean women were recruited by private middlemen, many of whom were Korean intermediaries, and Japanese public authorities did not “force” them to become comfort women.


There was a system of state-regulated prostitution in Japan till the end of World War II under which prostitution was legalized with certain restrictions. The establishment of comfort stations was expansion of this system to war zones. As long as comfort stations were set up in war zones, it was not strange that the military was involved in the establishment and management of the stations and transfer of the women. That does not mean the Japanese army forced the women to engage in prostitution with Japanese officers and soldiers.


The Kono Statement said, “… at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments,” leaving impression that “comfort women hunts” like slave hunts in Africa were done by the public authorities in Korea under Japan’s rule.


However Nobuo Ishihara, former Deputy Cabinet Secretary under Mr. Kono, told me in an interview in 1997 that no document which showed Korean women were forcibly recruited was found by Japanese government’ s exhaustive search, but the Japanese government accepted request from the South Koreans that Japan admit coercion in order to restore honor of former comfort women. Mr. Ishihara also indicated there was a tacit understanding that with that agreement South Korea would never raise the issue again. Mr. Ishihara made it clear that there was no proof which supported the allegation of forcible recruitment except for conflicting testimonies made by former Korean comfort women.


The South Korean government made public the result of its search as a proof of forcible recruitment, but documents it showed included memoirs which had already been proved fictitious.


In 2007 the Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed Mr. Ishihara’s remarks by adopting an answer at a cabinet meeting to a question raised by an opposition lawmaker, saying that, “The government found no document which directly showed there was so-called forcible recruitment by military/administrative personnel.”


One of few instances in which forcible recruitment was officially confirmed was a case of Dutch detainees who was forced to entertain soldiers by front-line Japanese troops in Indonesia during the war. When the incident was known to the local Japanese army leadership, comfort stations were immediately closed. At a military tribunal set up by the Dutch after the war, Japanese officers and civilians involved in the case were found guilty and one of the officers was sentenced to death. There is no such instance with regard to Korean comfort women.


Apart from those who volunteered to become comfort women, there should have been pitiful women who were made comfort women against their will either by being sold or by being deceived. But it is not fair to blame the Japanese government solely based on today’s ethical standard, ignoring social conditions at the time.


Japan’s is not the only army which used comfort women. According to historian Ikuhiko Hata, who studied the issue of military and sex in various countries, Germany had similar comfort stations as Japan’s during World War II. Although the U.S. Army on the European front did not establish comfort stations of its own, there is a record that the Americans took over comfort stations run jointly by the German and Italian armies after the U.S. and the British jointly occupied Sicily, Italy. Immediately after the end of the war, an organization called Recreation and Amusement Association was established at the initiative of Japan’s Interior Ministry and the American soldiers of the occupying forces poured in facilities set up by the association. There were also facilities urgently constructed in Japan by the demand of the U.S. forces, according to Hata. During the Vietnam war U.S. Army-approved “military brothels” in which Vietnamese women were working and living were set up around military camps. The former Soviet Union did not have comfort stations but tacitly approved horrendous rapes of German and Japanese women by front-line soldiers in eastern Germany or Manchuria and northern Korea.


The second problem of Mr. Cossa’s article is that it lumps comfort women together as “sexual slaves.” In reality, comfort women, in contrast to slaves, were not possessions of their masters, were not forced to work without remuneration, and did not spend life without freedom in comfort stations.


During the search by the Japanese government in 1992-93, a U.S. military document which reported about the interview with twenty Korean comfort women and Japanese owners of the comfort station captured by the allied forces in Burma in 1944 was found at the U.S. National Archives. The Korean women were not forcibly recruited by the Japanese military. According to the document, at their comfort station in northern Burma, (1) comfort women had plenty of money with which to purchase desired articles, (2) they amused themselves by participating in sports events with both officers and men, and attended picnic, entertainments and social dinners; they had a phonograph, and in the towns they were allowed to go shopping, (3) some of the girls who had paid their debt were allowed to return to Korea, (4) the health of those girls was good, and any girls found diseased was given treatment, secluded, and eventually sent to a hospital. That status is quite different from that of the “slaves.”