Japan's pride should be restored. The fabrication by the Asahi newspaoer is now reavealed
Mainichi daily news reported today, a translation of original Japanese language Mainichi Shimbun.
There are no signs of an end to criticism of the Asahi Shimbun daily's Aug. 5 and 6 assessments of its past coverage of the wartime "comfort women" issue and its follow-up story on Aug. 28.
The core of the problem is testimony provided by the late Seiji Yoshida to the effect that he "hunted up" Korean women to make them serve as comfort women for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The Asahi said it retracted articles on Yoshida's testimony after concluding that it was a fabrication. His testimony has had immeasurable influence on South Korean and international public opinion. Confusion over the matter has made it difficult to resolve the comfort women issue that is closely related to the dignity of people and historical perceptions. It has also prevented the international community from understanding Japan's position.
The testimony by Yoshida, who claimed that he had headed the mobilization section at the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Romu Hokokukai labor organization, which was in control of day laborers, was widely regarded as evidence that Korean women were forcibly taken away to serve as comfort women, and spread mistaken awareness of the issue throughout the world. Since 1982, the Asahi Shimbun had most enthusiastically covered Yoshida's testimony. Still, its article reviewing its coverage of his testimony failed to mention the reports' impact.
The comfort women issue suddenly emerged as a diplomatic matter between Japan and South Korea after the Asahi ran an article on Jan. 11, 1992, claiming that a document suggesting the Japanese military was involved in comfort stations had been discovered. The document was said at the time to constitute proof that overthrew the Japanese government's claim that the military was not involved in matters pertaining to comfort women and the claim that "private agencies were dragging around" comfort women.
Then Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who visited South Korea shortly afterwards, had no choice but to offer repeated apologies to then South Korean President Roh Tae-woo.
The Asahi Shimbun treated the document, which was a notice on the recruitment of comfort women domestically, as if it targeted Korean women. Moreover, the daily stated in its explanation about comfort women that mainly Korean women were forcibly taken away as "volunteer corps" after the Pacific War broke out, adding that the number of such women was said to reach 80,000 to 200,000. This gave the public the strong impression that comfort women were forcibly taken away under the name of "volunteer corps." Yoshida's testimony was regarded as specific proof of this story.
Following the Asahi's coverage, South Korean newspapers intensively reported on the comfort women issue, infuriating the country's public. On Jan. 16, 1992, when then Prime Minister Miyazawa visited South Korea, the Dong-A Ilbo daily reported that some of the young girls who were taken away as volunteer labor corps (at the age of around 12 and 13) were subsequently conscripted as comfort women.
In June this year, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a report of its assessment of the August 1993 statement issued under the name of then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the comfort women issue. The report mentions that the Asahi Shimbun coverage caused anti-Japan criticism in South Korea to heat up.
Following the heat-up of domestic public opinion, the South Korean government released an interim report on the situations of comfort stations for the military under Japan's colonial rule on July 31, 1992. A section of the report read: "Since around 1943 ... comfort women were recruited by hunting up women in a similar way to that of hunting up African slaves in the 19th century." The report stated that Yoshida testified to this in the second chapter of a book he authored. It was based on the assumption that Yoshida's testimony was accurate.
South Korean papers covered Seoul's investigative report with special emphasis on Yoshida's statement, with splash headlines such as "Women and girls hunted" (the Chosun Ilbo) and "Hunting up slaves" (the Dong-A Ilbo). South Korean people have thus come under the impression that comfort women had been forcibly taken away -- the South Korean government's official view.
On the other hand, historian Ikuhiko Hata, who specializes in modern history, raised doubts about Yoshida's testimony in the April 30, 1992 edition of the Sankei Shimbun daily and in the June issue of the monthly magazine "Seiron," which went on sale on May 1 that year, based on a fact-finding survey he conducted on Jeju Island, where Yoshida claimed that comfort women were hunted up. However, Yoshida's testimony was not immediately denied.
The Asahi Shimbun published a story on May 24, 1992, saying that Yoshida would visit South Korea to offer an apology. Western media outlets also reported Yoshida's testimony. In June 1992, the Associated Press introduced Yoshida as "the only Japanese to have publicly confessed involvement in the systematic kidnapping of women from Korean villages to be raped over and over again by Japanese soldiers during World War II." In a report dispatched to the world, the news agency quoted Yoshida as saying that he was "just like the Nazi officials who operated the gas chambers."
U.S.-based NBC also aired an interview with Yoshida, in which he said, "We tried to pick one or two women from each village -- young, healthy women. Criteria is whether they are suitable for comfort woman or not."
In August 1992, the New York Times quoted Yoshida as saying that he had seized perhaps 2,000 women. "It may be the worst abuse of human rights in Asia in this century," he was quoted as saying. At the same time, the daily quoted Hata as warning that all news organizations were being deceived by Yoshida.
The Kono statement was compiled shortly before the Miyazawa Cabinet resigned in 1993. It does not adopt the view that Korean women were forcibly taken away to serve as comfort women but admits that there was coercion of comfort women, saying, "in many cases they were recruited against their own will."
Sakutaro Tanino, who played a key role in compiling the statement as then head of the Cabinet Councillors' Office on External Affairs, has told the Mainichi Shimbun, "He (Yoshida) was well known to the public at the time. Younger officials of the Cabinet Councillors' Office on External Affairs met him about twice. However, he was exited and was unable to talk calmly. So we didn't reflect what he said in the statement."
However, Yoshida's statement continued to influence the world.
A report that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights issued in January 1996, known as the "Coomaraswamy report," defines the comfort women system as "military sexual slavery" and recommended that the Japanese government pay state compensation, apologize to victims and punish perpetrators.
The report says the wartime experiences of Seiji Yoshida are recorded in his book, in which he confesses to having been part of slave raids in which, among other Koreans, "as many as 1,000 women were obtained for 'comfort women' duties under the National Labor Service Association as part of the National General Mobilization Law."
Meiji University professor Yasuaki Onuma, who has long been involved in efforts to get to the bottom of the comfort women issue, points out problems with the Coomaraswamy report. "It contains incorrect quotes and its academic level is low on the whole," he says.
The report's explanation of the comfort women system is based on "The Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War" authored by Australian journalist George L. Hicks. Based on Yoshida's book, Hicks states that slave hunting was conducted whenever other methods failed.
Shortly after the Sankei Shimbun reported Hata's view on the issue, a reporter at the Asahi Shimbun's Tokyo city news department met with Yoshida and "asked Yoshida to introduce relevant individuals and submit data to corroborate his testimony, but the reporter said Yoshida rejected the request," the Asahi's assessment says. The Asahi asked Yoshida for a meeting again for its special coverage of the comfort women issue on March 31, 1997, but Yoshida rejected the request, the daily says. The Asahi wrote in its special feature that year that it could not be confirmed whether what Yoshida said was true because the paper was not sure at the time whether his testimony was a fabrication, according to its assessment.
Former Asahi Shimbun executive editor Yoshibumi Wakamiya, who was serving as managing editor of the daily's political news department in 1997, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Naturally, there were calls for retracting or correcting earlier reports in the special coverage at the time. I also made such assertions. It's really regrettable that the paper failed to do so (earlier)."
In September 2006, the first Abe Cabinet was launched. Abe had insisted that the Kono statement be reviewed. However, a draft resolution urging the Japanese government to apologize over the comfort women issue was submitted to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January 2007, and was adopted at a House plenary session on July 30 that year. Parliaments of the Netherlands, Canada and the European Union subsequently adopted similar resolutions urging Japan to apologize over the issue.
The U.S. House resolution recognizes the comfort women system as "forced military prostitution by the Government of Japan" and bitterly criticizes Japan, saying the system was "unprecedented in its cruelty and magnitude, including gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and sexual violence resulting in mutilation, death, or eventual suicide in one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century."
A document explaining the comfort women system to congressmen, which was attached to the draft resolution, also mentions Yoshida's book.
At the same time, monuments for former comfort women have been erected in several places in the United States, mainly at the request of South Korean organizations. The epigraph on the monument in Palisades Park, New Jersey, says, "In Memory of the more than 200,000 women and girls who were abducted by the armed forces of the government of Imperial Japan, while that in Glendale, California, states, "In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes ... to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan." These are based on South Korea's assertions. As such, the view comfort women were "forcibly taken away" still persists.
-- Mainichi reporting humbly faces up to facts --
The Mainichi Shimbun has always faced up to the facts humbly in reporting the news.
News coverage can have huge impact on society and cause diplomatic friction, just as the Asahi Shimbun's coverage of the comfort women issue is said to have caused worldwide misunderstanding that the former Japanese military was systematically involved in snatching away Korean women for the comfort women system. We feel that we have the responsibility as a news organization to promptly correct any mistake and provide a convincing explanation to the public.
This is a special feature about the content of the Asahi Shimbun coverage of the comfort women issue and its impact, and a report on how the Mainichi Shimbun has covered the issue.
At the same time, we at the Mainichi Shimbun are concerned that confusion over this matter could hinder efforts to nurture forward-looking relations between Japan and South Korea. We are also worried that Japan cannot win understanding from the international community, which has discussed the protection of women's human rights on many occasions.
The Mainichi Shimbun is determined to humbly cover the facts with an eye to the future. (By Hajime Ogawa, General Managing Editor, Tokyo Head Office)
-- How the Mainichi Shimbun covered the comfort women issue --
The Mainichi Shimbun has published two articles on Seiji Yoshida. The stories covered Yoshida's visit to South Korea on Aug. 11, 1992, to "apologize for the past." On the city news page in its Aug. 12, 1992 Tokyo morning edition and the city news page in its Tokyo morning edition the following day, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that Yoshida offered an apology directly to former comfort women and others concerned. Both reported simply what Yoshida did on that day, each with a two-column headline.
Regarding the mix-up of comfort women and volunteer corps, when the Mainichi Shimbun published an article about former comfort women Kim Hak-sun in the "Hito" ("Person") column in the morning edition on Dec. 13, 1991, the story said girls and women aged at least 14 were taken away from the Korean Peninsula as members of the volunteer corps, etc. and made to serve as comfort women for the military. This was based on explanations provided by supporters of former comfort women and other sources. In the "Asia Now" column in its evening edition on Jan. 22, 1992, the Mainichi Shimbun stated that comfort women and the volunteer corps are separate, and has since made efforts to ensure that the mix-up is not repeated.
The Mainichi Shimbun reported on the front page of in its Aug. 7, 2013 morning edition that a Korean man's diaries describing his experiences working at comfort stations in Myanmar and Singapore were found in South Korea. The diaries could be described as important primary sources for calm discussions on the comfort women issue. However, no diary has been found from the time he may have been involved in the recruitment of comfort women on the Korean Peninsula.
In response to South Korea's tough stance on the issue, the Mainichi Shimbun called for calm discussions in its editorial.
-- Asahi fails to identify 16 articles that it says were based on Yoshida's testimony --
In its assessment, the Asahi Shimbun stated that the paper "has run, as far as it can confirm, at least 16 articles" regarding Yoshida's testimony. It said, "We have made the judgment that the testimony that Yoshida forcibly took away comfort women on Jeju was a fabrication. We retract our articles on him."
The Asahi only explained that the first story on the matter was run on the city news page of its Sept. 2, 1982 Osaka morning edition, but gave no further details about the 16 articles.
The Mainichi Shimbun contacted the Asahi Shimbun over the dates of publication of the 16 stories, but the Asahi's public relations department declined to answer, saying, "We will report what we must report to our readers in our paper or on Asahi Shimbun Digital."
-- Ex-Mainichi Seoul bureau chief Masaharu Shimokawa: 'I was sure his apology was a performance' --
I first covered Yoshida when he appeared at a rally in Seoul on Aug. 12, 1992 saying, "I'd like to apologize over the forcible taking away of comfort women." About 10 former comfort women were invited to the rally at a hall reserved by the association of the bereaved families of Pacific War victims, which also organized the event. Yoshida apologized for "having been involved in forcibly taking away Korean people as part of my duty."
However, when he said the Japanese government should build a high-speed railway line between Seoul and Busan to express its regret over the issue, I felt his comments were bizarre. So I wrote an article simply describing what happened during the rally and sent it to Japan.
After the rally, a Japanese supporter said, "Can anyone drive Mr. Yoshida to the hotel? So I offered to do so because I wanted to get some time to interview him. After getting into the car, I asked which hotel he was staying at, and he mentioned one of the most luxurious hotels in Seoul. I said, "You're staying at a nice hotel, aren't you?" I was surprised when he said, "A Japanese TV station covered my travel expenses."
When I wrote this in the "As I See It" column, I was unable to write that Yoshida was a "dubious" character, so instead I wrote, "I couldn't help but stare at his face." I was convinced that his apology was nothing but a performance.