Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hironobu Ishikawa

【#561】We Support Japan Times’ Wise Decision

Hironobu Ishikawa / 2018.12.12 (Wed)

December 10, 2018

     The Japan Times, a daily English newspaper in Japan, made an unusual announcement on November 30 to revise the descriptions of wartime “forced laborers” and “comfort women.” From the day, the newspaper vowed to describe “forced laborers” as “wartime laborers” and “comfort women” as “women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.” The revision aims to correct the misunderstanding that “forced laborers” and “comfort women” were forced to work. On December 7, the newspaper carried a full-page message from its executive editor, emphasizing that “the change would better reflect a more objective view of topics.” The Japan Institute for National Fundamentals has made recommendations seeking to correct descriptions that distort historical facts and fully supports the newspaper’s wise decision.

Foreign media critical of the revision
     The term “forced labor” has been used to refer to Koreans who were recruited before and during World War II to work for Japanese companies. In the editor’s note on November 30, The Japan Times explained that the conditions they worked under or how these workers were recruited varied. Koreans were recruited voluntarily, on official recommendations or on a requisition basis. The newspaper said that the term “forced labor” could have been potentially misleading. As for comfort women who have been referred to even as “sex slaves,” The Japan Times also explained that the experiences of these women in different areas throughout the course of the war varied widely.
     Some foreign media including The Guardian of Britain which still use the terms “sex slaves” and “slave laborers” criticized the revision as succumbing to the Abe administration’s pressure or rewriting history. In an overreaction to The Japan Times announcement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, which comprises mainly foreign reporters, accused the announcement as having “sparked international anger” on its website.
     The Japan Times is Japan’s oldest English newspaper launched in 1897. It was made a mockery of as “anti-Japan Times” under its previous owner because of its anti-Japan stance. Since the newspaper was sold to online media company News2u (headed by Chief Executive Officer Minako Suematsu), Executive Editor Hiroyasu Mizuno and other editors have debated a new policy for the newspaper. The message from The Japan Times executive editor should have come as a great shock to foreign journalists in Japan who are mostly unable to read Japanese and depend mainly on English newspapers.

Are other Japanese media ignoring the Japan Times decision?
     The wise decision by The Japan Times might have given a painful blow to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that has apologized for a series of erroneous reports about the comfort women while refraining from clarifying the apology in the English version. The big argument over how to describe wartime laborers and comfort women among English language media in and outside Japan has been little covered by major Japanese newspapers or television stations. Ignoring this matter amounts to fomenting historical distortions.

Hironobu Ishikawa is a director and Planning Committee member of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a former Washington D.C. correspondent and international news editor of The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.