The History the Japanese Government Is Trying to Erase

It was predictable that most of the early online harassment would target a Japanese member of our group. When we were preparing what was going to be open letter When we asked for the withdrawal of Harvard Law School’s article, Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, alleging that Korean “comfort women” were contracted prostitutes, we anticipated abuse. Ramseyer’s play bolstered the ultra-nationalist Japanese worldview that rehabilitated Japan’s history of militarism and colonialism and denied the coercion and brutality of much of the violence of the era. Although it appeared in an obscure legal and business journal, it was considered “cutting edge research” by the far right in Japan. The Japanese far-right newspaper Sankei Shimbun introduced the article’s claims as final scientific confirmation that “comfort women” were not sexual slaves. It made front page news in Korea and was debated and debated for weeks on television and in print.

The five of us – Amy Stanley, Hannah Shepherd, David Ambaras, Sayaka Chatani, and I – had created a steady stream of text and Google Doc updates around the clock in two intense weeks of checking and checking each other out. We found it hard to believe the extent to which the short article distorted and misused evidence. After we published our letter, the magazine became the International legal and economic review, entered “Expression of concernAnd said it was reviewing the article. Of course, this did not prevent Japanese cyber nationalists from dismissing the non-Japanese among us as ignorant and “anti-Japanese” and from calling Sayaka a racial traitor.

The “comfort women” first became figures of international controversy in 1991, when Kim Hak-sun appeared under her real name as a survivor of the “consolation station” system of the Japanese military. Although the suffering of the “comfort women” had been an open secret, feminism, as a transnational social movement in East Asia, enabled people to care about how the war spawned gender-based forms of violence, particularly sexual violence.

Democratization in South Korea also left unheard voices to ask about the terms under which all of Japan’s wartime atrocities had been resolved by the 1965 agreement that normalized relations between Japan and South Korea. When Kim and other survivors spoke up, South Korean society and feminist activists and scholars in Japan were ready to listen. And what did you hear? The existence an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 “Comfort women” were often forcibly conscripted from across the Japanese-occupied territory; They were Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipina, Indonesian, and Dutch. However, the majority of the non-Japanese “comfort women” came from the Korean peninsula. Kim testified that when she was 17 years old, she was taken to a Japanese military comfort station in China, where she was raped by several soldiers on a daily basis. When she tried to run away, she was taken back and raped again. She eventually escaped with the help of a Korean merchant who became her husband. But many women did not survive this ordeal and many others remained silent. The cases of some of the remaining survivors continue to be tried in South Korean courts and remain a sticking point in Korea-Japan diplomacy.

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