South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s recent visit to the Takeshima islands in Japan and his demand that the Japanese emperor apologize for Japan’s war atrocities has renewed the discussion surrounding “comfort women,” i.e., the women, who were forcibly taken into sex slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
Contrary to past statements from government officials, a number of current Japanese politicians have recently claimed no concrete proof of “comfort women” exists. Current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said there are no documents confirming that Korean women were taken forcibly, as well as no accounts by any Japanese soldiers. His comments directly conflict with the 1993 Kono statement. Then cabinet secretary Yohei Kono’s statement acknowledges the complicity of the Japanese army in the creation and management of comfort stations and the forced transfer of women. It was based solely on the statements of former “comfort women,” and no investigations were conducted to confirm their validity. Jin Matsubara, the chairman of Japan’s National Public Safety Commission, said that Cabinet members should look to revising the Kono statement due to lack of evidence. He has also denied the overall existence of sex slaves and the Rape of Nanking, during which thousands of people were raped and murdered. Prime Minister Noda said that his administration would still abide by the Kono statement. However, he believes that the victims have already been adequately compensated under the 1965 Normalization Treaty between Japan and Korea.
Along with the current prime minister, ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also denied the existence of proof when it comes to “comfort women.” He proposed that the Japanese government should revise three past statements that reflect on the atrocities committed during World War II. The statements, made in 1982 by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kiichi Miyazawa, pledged to consider Japan’s war atrocities in school textbooks. During Abe’s term as prime minister he revised Japan’s education law, an act that allowed the whitewashing of Japanese war crimes in school textbooks.
In addition, the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, has spoken out, also claiming that there is no proof that Korean women were forced into sex slavery. Korea must present proof, he said. Hashimoto’s party, the rightwing Osaka Restoration Association, experienced the strongest support ratings in a recent poll behind the center-right Liberal Democratic Party. Hashimoto is a strong contender to become the next prime minister, which would lead to a new cabinet still demanding proof before they will acknowledge the horrors inflicted upon the “comfort women.”
The Korean Foreign Ministry has condemned the statements and has urged Japan to face historical facts and take steps in the reconciliation and compensation with its victims.
Further reading on the topic of Reconciliation between Japan and Korea.