Japan from the inside out

Nishioka Tsutomu on the comfort women (Part 1 of 4)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 15, 2012

NISHIOKA Tsutomu, a researcher associated with Tokyo Christian University, has been conducting research into the comfort women for more than 20 years.

Earlier this year he published an article on the subject in the biweekly Sapio magazine. He split it up into four parts on his website. Here is Part One.


THE furor over the comfort women erupted again last year. This is the fourth time. The first started in 1991, when the Asahi Shimbun printed the error-filled report that a Korean woman who sold her body as a gisaeng was compelled to join the volunteer corps. It ended in 1994 with the issuance of the Kono Declaration. The second occurred during the turmoil in 1996 in Japan, when intellectuals and Diet members raised the issue. They claimed information included in junior high school textbooks whose screening was complete contained erroneous documentation about the forcible recruitment of comfort women. The adoption in 2007 by the U.S. House of Representatives of a resolution censuring Japan for forcing women to become sex slaves was the third. I have been involved in this debate since 1991, more than 20 years.

Initially, I took the stand that while the comfort women existed, there was no comfort woman problem. First, I did not recognize that comfort women were captured through the exercise of public power, and that they were victims of the sex trade due to poverty. Second, I held that the 1965 treaty between Japan and South Korea had completely and finally resolved the issue of postwar reparations to South Korea. Therefore, my claim was that nothing remained to be resolved.

My thinking changed with the fourth eruption last year, however. As a result of the activities of some professional anti-Japan Japanese and anti-Japanese South Korean activists whose aim was to destroy Japan-Korean relations, the falsehood that the Japanese army made South Korean and other women sex slaves began to spread overseas. Many foreigners, including young South Koreans, believed this to be a fact, and this problem should be resolved. I began to rigorously think of the comfort woman problem as an issue of how to clear away the falsehood of the sex slave theory.

Therefore, I wanted to confirm the identity of the first person to expound the sex slave theory. That was Yoshida Seiji, a professional anti-Japanese Japanese. The idea did not come from South Korea.

The first president after the Korean nation was established in 1948 was independence activist Yi Seung-man. The Yi administration conducted negotiations with Japan for the normalization of relations. At that time, the Koreans demanded money from Japan for a variety of reasons to extract the maximum amount of postwar reparations. The 1951 list included eight different categories. One of them was compensation to the people impressed into service because of the war. The comfort women were not part of this category. At that time, most South Koreans knew of the circumstances of the colonial period. Though the Yi Seung-man administration pursued anti-Japanese policies, they did not ask for money for the comfort women in the diplomatic negotiations.

The sex slave theory was not brought up during the 1965 negotiations, either. That arose with the publication of Yoshida Seiji’s 1983 book, My War Crimes. Yoshida said the army ordered him in 1943 to mobilize Korean women for the volunteer corps. He also said he led a group of Japanese soldiers on Jeju to round up young, unmarried women and mothers with infants, take them away in trucks, and rape them.

Yoshida’s book was published in Japanese in 1989. A female reporter with the local newspaper on Jeju covered the story, and all the residents told her nothing like that had happened. An article was published in that newspaper on 14 August 1989 that said Yoshida lied. That newspaper article attracted little attention, however. The sex slave theory began to spread from among Japanese and Korean scholars and anti-Japanese activists.

That is the preliminary history.

4 Responses to “Nishioka Tsutomu on the comfort women (Part 1 of 4)”

  1. Thanks for the translation. Could you provide a link to the original Blog Post in Japanese?

  2. Mac is back said

    I have to question the statement that the comfort women furor first erupted in 1991 … unless the emphasis is on ” the furor” rather than ‘the issue’.

    Whereas I don’t question Yoshida Seiji role in related events, I find it interesting that the idea did not come from South Korea originally. In my reading on the matter, the issue was first raised by Japanese feminist ‘anti-sex tourism’ activists somewhere around the late-70s, early 80s. Again, it did not come from Korea but Japan.

    At that time, the Korean government and sex industries were targeting Japan and Japanese male sex tourists as a source of economic revenue after the Americans had mostly left. The concern came from Japanese women who wanted to stop this.

    If my memory serves me right, and I will go and dig out the original documents about this, the Japanese activist worked with some Christian Korean women’s group on the issue.

    Therefore, initially, this was not a nationalist issue, “Korean versus Japan”, it was a sexist issue, “Male versus female” where Korean and Japan males found themselves united as provider and consumer of sexual services and Korean and Japanese women were working together to stop it. Unsurprisingly, the sexual politics of the dispute appears to have drowned out after it was taken up as a masculine and nationalistic issue.

    It’s also worth reminding readers that,

    a) it is the US military, not the Japanese military who are accused of “industrializing” East Asian sex commerce and that during the period of 1950 to 1971, the United Nations estimates 1,000,000 Koreans were involved in sexually servicing them, and
    b) Korea has its own more recent history of sex crimes in Vietnam for which it refused to acknowledge, apologize or compensate for.

    It strikes me that the moral panic and hyperbole created around this issue is exacerbated by the upper middle class and quasi-Christian elements* within Korean societies in Korea and the US, both of which are deeply unsettled by issues surrounding sex in Korean culture and admittance of the exploitation of women and lower classes. This is exaggerated further by American Koreans influenced by both American values.

    I’ve always wondered why, if the comfort women chapter was so terrible on an individual and societal level, did so many women flock to it a mere matter of 5 years later, clearly within living memory and probably involving exactly the same individuals. If the sex industry was so objectionable to Korea society, why did it not provide welfare to protect their vulnerable women rather than seek to exploit them further, which the government did encouraging that to do so was a patriotic act.

    (*I write “quasi-Christian elements” because I have found many of the Korean adoptions of Protestantism to be quite unique and extreme, and the whole idea of doing so to be absurd … another valid discussion in its own right).

  3. almost said

    RIP Ampontan

  4. almost said

    Singapore rejects South Korean nationalists’ attempt
    to erect comfort women statue

    Endangered Japan: Book2: Sex, Lies, and Comfort Women


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