Date: Wed, 19 Feb 97 12:59:19 CST
From: (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Japanese Debate History of "Comfort Women"
/** headlines: 155.0 **/
** Topic: Japanese Debate History of "Comfort Women" **
** Written 11:55 AM Feb 18, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **

Japanese Debate History of "Comfort Women"

[SSJ:918] Ianfu Mondai Articles in Sekai.
18 February 1997

The following summary is from SSJ-Forum, a moderated discussion list on Japanese politics/political economy, based at the Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo. For more information, see the Institute home page at:

Under the heading "Koshoron ni hanron suru -- nihongun 'ianfu' mondai no honshitsu to wa" (Against the 'Licensed Prostitute' Arguments: The Truth about the Japanese Army's 'Comfort Women'), the magazine Sekai takes a strong step against recent efforts to excise war crimes from Japan's textbooks. One of the intellectual leaders of this movement,FUJIOKA Nobukatsu, a professor in the Department of Education at the University of Tokyo, argues that the Nanking Massacre was not in fact a massacre, and that the charges of tens of thousands of civilian deaths have been trumped up. He has also suggested, in a series of recent articles in the mainstream press as well as appearances on television, that the 'comfort women' in the Second World War were not in fact forcibly used as prostitutes, but rather were working legally and voluntarily as "licensed prostitutes" (kosho).

In response to Fujioka's high profile comments and articles, the March 1997 issue of Sekai (pp. 39-53) has provided space to two of the most prominent scholars working on the 'comfort women problem' (ianfu mondai)in Japan. In "Rekishi shiryo o do yomu ka?" (How to Read the Historical Record), YOSHIMI Yoshiaki challenges the central points of those who claim that the women were licensed prostitutes (for the sake of brevity, these critics will be called koshoronsha, or licensed-prostitution-theorists). Yoshimi, a professor at Chuo University and head of the Wartime Rsponsibility Materials Center, concerns himself with the specific charges launched by the koshoronsha, and showing what can and cannot be proved with historical documents currently available.The koshoronsha appear to have three main objections to an admission of Japanese culpability in sexual slavery. First, they claim that they women were not forced into this livelihood; it was a simple (and legal) choice of career. This is why they consciously use the term "licensed prostitute."

Second, they point out discrepancies and errors in the testimony provided by the women themselves. Third, they argue that even if the women were forced into this life, and even if we can accept the testimony as truth, the Japanese state is still not responsible, because the organization in charge of these women was in fact a private one. In general, they use the "Ministry of Education cafeteria" example to make this point: the cafeteria in the Ministry of Education (which controls the textbooks) is actually run by a private company, and the Japanese government is no more responsible for these women, who performed sexual labor for Japanese military men, than it is for the meals provided by this private cafeteria to Ministry of Education bureaucrats.

Yoshimi neatly and carefully dissects these arguments. He first points out that the historical record demonstrates quite clearly that these women -- many of whom were young girls -- were in fact taken forcefully from their homes in Korea, China, the Philippines, and other colonial territories, and that they did not choose to become prostitutes. Second, he discusses how oral histories are generally regarded within the field of history. The presence of errors or discrepancies in a report does not invalidate the entire statement; human memory is faulty on many details, particularly if the testimony is provided decades after the crime. But to the extent that the victims' testimony has been cross-checked against historical documents, most of which were written by the Imperial Government, the results have been quite conclusive. He adds that to the extent that there are gaps in our knowledge, it is because the Japanese government has failed to open all the relevant documents from the era to researchers. Finally,Yoshimi argues that the Ministry of Education cafeteria example (monbusho shokudoron) fails because it underestimates the role of the state in determining what kinds of services are to be provided to its employees. In fact, this is the one place where Yoshimi loses his temper, and we see a glimpse of feelings on the issue as he essentially calls this comparison, comfort women vs. cafeteria employees, obscene.

This flash of anger at the end of Yoshimi's article is good preparation for SUZUKI Yuko's piece "Sekando reipu ni hoka naranai" (This is nothing but a second rape). Suzuki refers less to the historical record and more to logical inconsistencies in the comments by Fujioka and all. She herself finds it absurd to refer to these women as "kosho," and does not like "ianfu" much better. Rather than using "licensed prostitute" or "comfort woman," Suzuki refers to these women as "Nihongun sei dorei" (the Japanese military's sexual slaves). Suzuki, an indepent scholar of women's history, also launches wholeheartedly into a blistering attack on the koshoronsha, doing so in two ways: by pointing out the logical flaws in the arguments,and by exposing the patriarchal roots of the sexual slavery system.

For example, when discussing the "Ministry of Education cafeteria example," Suzuki asks simply, "If these women were the same as cafeteria employees, why did so many of them try to escape? And why did the army help out in tracking down the women who had escaped from their employers?" Furthermore, she takes to task the entire idea of "licensed prostitution," noting that the idea of prostitution as "choice" is already premised on a system that is already overwhelmingly biased against women's opportunities. And so the comment that they simply "chose" to do this is meaningless, not only because it ignores the historical record of compulsion and sexual violence, but because it attempts to legitimize a pattern of sexual domination that is inherently indefensible. And these efforts, particularly after the women have had the courage to "come out" regarding their victimization, essentially inflict upon them the "second rape" mentioned in the title.

Both articles end with comments about how Japan is likely to be perceived by an international community that has been riveted, in some areas, by revelations about the comfort women. Yoshimi argues that Japan simply won't be fully accepted by the international community as long as it continues to play games with the historical record. Suzuki's conclusion is more pointed, as she ends with comments from different international conventions as well as a 1996 Kumarasuwami Report (that's how it's written in Japanese -- I am unfamiliar with it, and I defer to anyone who happens to know something about this) that made six recommendations to the Japanese government regarding how these women should be compensated as well as treated for their trauma and suffering. Although I am not a specialist on the issue -- and I have to admit to having read only one of Fujioka's pieces, and this one in the pop culture magazine "Spa!" on a 20-minute subway ride -- I suspect that the Sekai articles will be of equal interest to experts in the field and to those of us who approach it as concerned observers.

Dave Leheny
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government
Cornell University
Research Associate
Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo