The video is a recorded image showing Yoshihisa Komori of Japan’s Sankei Shinbun newspaper being interviewed on the comfort women issue for the PBS series Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria On March 29, 2007. This was just when US Congressman Mike Honda’s Resolution 121, which calls on the Japanese government to apologize for having forced young women to become sex slaves during World War II, was discussed in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked outrage in Asia and beyond when he recently said that there was no evidence that Japan’s Army had forced women to work in military brothels during World War II.
The acknowledgement of and apologies for the so-called comfort women has been a stumbling block to better relations with Japan’s powerful neighbors China and South Korea.
We are joined by Yoshihisa Komori of Japan’s daily Sankei Shinbun for a closer look at this hot topic.
FZ: Komori-san, why did Abe feel he had to make that statement?
Yoshihisa Komori : Because he has been asserting that the Japanese military as a matter of policy never coerced the recruitment of young women in Asia. There have been some isolated cases where soldiers and officers who are defying the orders from above forcefully taken away some unfortunate ladies, young ladies, China or Indonesia. But again, there’s no proof that the Japanese military as a policy as a whole did such thing.
FZ: But the number of women involved, the scale of it, seems to suggest some kind of systematic effort and the women themselves claim that they were made to, they were almost screened by military authorities so it does seem to have a systemic or institutional aspect to the policy.
YK: Yes, I think Japanese leadership and the people acknowledge that there’s a systematic involvement or systematic running or brothels of prostitution; the systematic way. But again it’s based on a voluntary basis and there were …
FZ: You mean voluntary by the military officers. Not by the women?
YK: No, by women. They were. You may be surprised to hear this but there are lots of the newspaper ads and some other commercial advertisements for recruitment for those women. Remind you though, sadly the prostitution per se was legal in those days. Not just in Japan. And between women and the Japanese military there’s a huge sort of business people who were running these brothels for the military, maybe at the request of the military. So yes, the military was involved but the military never as a policy was coercing those women and that’s the sort of complexity of the issue.
FZ: But there are certainly women who claim to have been coerced.
YK: There were a few cases coerced by those merchants of prostitution.
Sometimes the whole family was in debt and instead the parents decided to pretty much sell, human trafficking in other words the very saddest form, those daughters to prostitution houses in exchange for some money. So, in that case on the individual basis on the part of women, yes, there is a coercion.
FZ: But the military was paying for it. Just to get at this institutional nature of the sex trade. As I understand it the soldiers were not paying for the prostitutes but the military as institution was contracting with the intermediaries, buying the services of these women, and providing them to its soldiers.
YK: But each soldier was paying. Yes, the individuals. There are whole record [of it] and many of the women… Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m endorsing those sad obviously wrong acts but the fact remains on one hand that some of the women were making a lot of money on the record. They were sending, remitting their money home to their parents and some of them were making much more money than the Japanese Prime Minister [then].
FZ: You’re saying that the military in its official capacity never paid for these services?
YK: No, they probably paid for the people who are running the prostitution houses but not the sex itself.
FZ: But there was a setup. There were houses in which on military camps. There were places where this was being done. The military must have been housing these people.
YK: Yes, that’s right.
FZ: They created the infrastructure.
YK: They created the infrastructure and for that the Japanese government and successive Prime Ministers acknowledged the wrongdoing of the past and apologized.
FZ: Why is it that apology if it was made seems to be one that has not been accepted or taken as a real apology in either South Korea or China?
YK: See, there’s a certain element outside Japan that would never seem to be willing to accept the Japanese apology. Succession, I mean all the Japanese Prime Ministers in the past 14 years- 15 years individually or collectively apologized but that’s not enough.
Now they say we have to pass the resolution for apology, you know. A hurdle always has been raised.
But remind you, this is a part of the War effort. And the whole War effort conducted by Japan was punished to death. We paid the price. All those War criminals have been tried and executed. The entire of Nations subjected itself to the winners of the, victors of the World War II, resulting in execution and reparation and the San Francisco Peace Treaty and all that, you know.
So what more can we do? That’s our feeling, you know.
They are nitpicking and I think the essence of this issue from the Japanese perspective is double-jeopardy, double-standards, and a tinge of racism.
Why do we have to be held responsible forever and ever for something that our, the people in the two generations, three generations ago did and [which] we acknowledged that was wrong thing. We apologized for it but again somehow the way we apologized is not enough or the way we paid money was not enough. It just comes again and again and again.
Look at Japan now. It’s a purely democratic, sort of, have a lot of faith in the democracy and humanism. We have been making a very significant contribution to the international humanitarian causes [through] ODA or other forms. Why do we have to be so attacked and put in a sort of inferior position morally, I mean?
FZ: You said racism but the attacks are really coming from South Korea and China. The United States has actually been very quiet on this issue as an official matter.
YK: Look at what’s going on at House of Representatives in the US.
FZ: No, I mean the Executive Branch has not been pushing you hard on this. It’s China and South Korea that you’re facing the most criticism from.
YK: Criticism is now coming from the United States. New York Times, the Los Angels Times, and Boston Globe. They are bashing Japan and the Japanese leadership as if there is something wrong in the Japanese DNA. None of us was around when these things happened.
The comparison between Germany and Japan; what the Nazi Germany did [was] just annihilation, premeditated decision made at the top of the national government to annihilate one entire race, ethnic group that had nothing to do with the War, whereas in Japan there’s no such thing even remotely. Everything that Japan has been accused of, happened in the battlefield with the parties, the warring parties.
FZ: You know that it causes problems for Japan in East Asia, particularly with the Chinese and the South Koreans, whatever the merits of the issue. Why did Abe feel … why did the Prime Minister feel he had to do something like this now?
Is it some people claim that he has been losing ground in the polls [so that] he needed to sure up his support and this was a way of throwing an issue to his nationalistic right-winged base?
YK: No, I really have to turn the table around. Prime Minister Abe only reacted to the bunch of questions raised by the Japanese reporters on the resolution that was brought and about to be voted on in the House of Representatives of the United States.
So our question is why do they have to bring up this issue now? We haven’t said anything about this. We have not either negatively or positively. So only because of this House of Representatives resolution did Abe have to say something because the resolution specifically calls for un-equitable, a national apology which Abe said that [we] have apologized, so he doesn’t need to apologized anymore.
FZ: But he also said that the military was not involved in an official capacity.
YK: So official capacity or not, that’s the policy. I mean, that’s pretty much an established fact. You really have to show us [that] the military’s top level made a decision. Any proof that they were coercing, they were ordering the coerced recruitment of the young women.
FZ: How does Japan get out of this situation?
When Japan tried to get permanent seat in the UN Security Council, it was stunning how little support it had. I mean in all of Asia the only country that gave it its qualified support was Singapore. Despite the fact that Japan has given tens of billions of dollars of aid to all of these countries, I think it’s almost $30 billion to China alone. How does Japan get out of this trap where its image seems tied to what happened during World War II? And its reaction and its handling of that past?
YK: The past 50 years or so, I think the Japanese attitude as well as government policy was to say nothing against any charges.
Just showing our democratic nature and the humanitarian policy but by these policies. But certainly that didn’t work so I think what you may be seeing from now is the Japanese leadership or Japanese people are speaking out.
For instance, there’s no such thing as a military top decision or policy decision to coerce women even though there are people who say there was. But so now I think people more and more need to be speaking out and engaged in a dialogue, a discussion or a debate.
I think quietly accepting any charges and by doing all those good things just doesn’t work. There’s a profound disappointment, sadness, and resentment on the part of many people in Japan now.
You may be seeing a new Japan.
This is seriously beginning to erode the Japanese American alliance. Because the kind of people whose pride and other feelings are hurt by this incessant accusation against Japan are the people who most vigorously supported the alliance.
They’re more based on democracy with the United States while countries like India or Australia, Britain or France.
But somehow they take something because there’s a even behind this current move against Japan. There is a Chinese move. Congressman Mike Honda of California has been receiving a huge amount of political donations from the Chinese activists who are associated with the Chinese organization. Interestingly there’s very little supportive activists from Korea. So I see this as a diplomatic maneuver on the part of certain countries to keep Japan in a emasculated way or inferior way just portraying Japan as if the country or the people who are sort of genetically wrong or something inferior.
That’s how strongly I feel.
FZ: Well, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you Komori San. Thank you.