Japan vs. the Truth: The Denialism Narrative

Japan has been launching a campaign against accusations from survivors and researchers about their role in human trafficking in the World War II era. “Comfort women” were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Government, and were mostly from South Korea, although many were taken from other areas in Asia such as China.

The Abe administration has both actively denied their military’s role in the exploitation and abuse of these women by painting historical record and first-person accounts as “lies designed to discredit the nation.” They deny that the imperial government orchestrated a system of human trafficking and coerced prostitution, simply referring to these women as “camp-following prostitutes.” In 1993, the government apologized with the Kono Statement which admitted that women were coerced or taken against their will and lived miserably. Shinzo Abe said he will uphold the statement, after a Japanese panel released the results of their study on its origins, saying that it was guided by concern that South Korean public opinion on the issue was damaging Japan-South Korea relations. They went on to say that investigation into the issue was carried out with feedback from the South Korean government; yet both Chinese and South Korean governments denounce the panel feeling that it was convened to cast doubt on the sincerity of the Kono Statement. They charge the Abe government with refusing to confront the truth and chastise them for attempt to revise history.

Recently, the Japanese government sent Kuni Sato, the Foreign Ministry ambassador in charge of human rights and humanitarian issues, to meet with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, to compel her to changes elements of her 1996 report on wartime comfort women, which was compiled after interviewing former comfort women and researchers in Japan and Korea. In the report, Coomaraswamy referenced a book by Seiji Yoshida (d. in 2000), a former solider in the Imperial Japanese Army, who said he had taken part in abducting over 200 women from Jeju Island, South Korea during the war. From the book the report states that Yoshida 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.” Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan, had published his story and further mentioned him in 16 articles throughout the 1990s. In August, Asahi retracted these, stating that Yoshida lied and his stories couldn’t be confirmed; however they still claim that there is solid evidence that the Imperial Army kidnapped women from other parts of Asia. Prime Minister Abe called him a crook and criticized Asahi’s reports on the subject, saying that because of their “false reporting” the issue has spread across the country.

Japan is actively trying to remove the designation of comfort women as sex slaves, especially from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Their obsession doesn’t stop with denials of their own transgressions; they also challenge reports from the United Nations on more recent war crimes committed by other countries, particularly Sri Lanka. As the largest single aid donor to the country, Japan remained neutral in the UN Human Rights Council’s vote in March to investigate war crimes allegedly committed within the final months of the Sri Lankan Civil War (which ended after 26 years in 2009), with the Japanese parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs Seiji Kihara saying, We are not ready to accept biased reports prepared by international bodies.”

Shinzo Abe is from a mainstream Japanese conservative family and the nationalism, historical revisionism, and”denialism” of his government is no accident; as a loser in WWII and antagonist in conflicts between it’s largest neighbors China and Korea, Japan has been taking a servile role for the past 70 years. Abe wants to bring back Japan to its former glory and push back against the U.S. and escape from the “postwar regime” its found itself in. However in doing this, Japan is deepening the wounds it has caused and further harming relations with other Asian nations.

– Laurel B.


One thought on “Japan vs. the Truth: The Denialism Narrative

  1. I think that it is interesting to try and change the narrative that was imposed after WWII. It has always been the case the the winners of any battle or war relate the story in the future. I think that it is innovative and strong for Japan to take an unpleasant narrative the the US imposed on and try to change it within the international community.


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