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The damage caused by false reporting Errors in Asahi Shimbun's comfort women articles defamed Japan's reputation

September 02, 2014  Yoshihisa Komori

 This article first appeared in Japanese on JBpress on August 20. You can read it here.

On August 5 and 6 the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's leading dailies, published retractions of 16 articles on the topic of comfort women, articles dating as far back as the early 1980s. The affected articles were those containing false statements from Seiji Yoshida on his having abducted Korean women who were then forced into prostitution. Despite the retractions, the fact is these articles have had a significant influence in Japan's foreign relations with longtime ally the United States, as veteran journalist Yoshihisa Komori explains.

The Asahi Shimbun's false reporting on the comfort women issue has impugned Japan's international reputation. The major consequences that have resulted make this transgression warrant serious consideration.

The incorrect information reported by the Asahi has unjustly besmirched the reputation of the Japanese state and people in the United States and in the international community as a whole. The corrections the Asahi printed on August 5 and 6 have made it clear that the US and others' condemnation of Japan for the comfort women issue has been based on falsified information.

In the US, most turned deaf ears to the truth

Asahi Shimbun admits errors in 'comfort woman' articles

In the US, I have been involved in working to inform concerned parties and the general public of the facts about the comfort women issue. One activity for this was my appearance on PBS public television in April 2007. I was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria, a famous journalist and then-editor of Newsweek International.

In that interview I was making a point about the Japanese military not having systematically abducted women or forced them into prostitution. I remember that when I explained that the comfort women received payment for sexual acts, Zakaria's face briefly showed an expression of disbelief. He had been convinced that ‘sex slaves' couldn't have received money.

I also emphasize that the Japanese military did not abduct women whenever I speak at seminars or symposiums in the US. Other Japanese who are knowledgeable on this have also worked to publicize the facts about the comfort women issue to other countries including the US. Despite this, the US believed the falsehoods reported by the Asahi rather than the truth, and has continued to criticize Japan.

Academics, the media, politicians, and even high-ranking government officials insist that the Japanese military systematically abducted women and made them into sex slaves. Their basis for this assertion were the falsehoods reported by the Asahi from Japan. For me, working to spread the facts in the US, this was like being stabbed in the back.

Organizations that spread Asahi's false reporting on comfort women

Let me briefly review how the comfort women issue arose, spread, and how mistaken information fuelled an increase in condemning Japan in the US. I think it is meaningful to examine this process as seen firsthand through my own eyes.

In the US, what first brought the comfort women issue recognition and started the criticism was the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues (WCCW). This was an organization established in Washington DC in 1992 by Korean and Korean-American activists.

1992 was also the year that saw false reports on the comfort women issue from Japan pick up steam, with the Asahi Shimbun conducting extensive false reporting that the Japanese military systematically abducted Korean women. The Asahi's false reporting reached a fevered pitch, claiming that Korean women were abducted and made into comfort women in a women's volunteer corps. At that time the Asahi was also continuing to print Seiji Yoshida's false statements about Japanese officials hunting for comfort women on Jeju Island.

The WCCW exhibited photos and materials about comfort women at a hall for the House of Representatives, and at churches and universities in the Washington DC area in order to promote its assertion that there was a tragedy where 200,000 women were systematically abducted and forced into sex slavery by the Japanese military.

At the time I asked members of the WCCW about what their claims were based on. They said it was statements and evidence provided by people involved and newspaper reports from Japan. They had also mentioned statements from historians, but when I asked the names of those historians I was vaguely told, “Statements from Japanese academics."

By the late 1990s, the Global Alliance For Preserving the History of WWII in Asia, a powerful Chinese organization, had also begun working in the US to condemn Japan. Before long this organization would be working from the shadows to blow up the comfort women issue.

One of its actions was to hold symposiums on the comfort women issue that asserted Japanese responsibility in places such as California universities. It has also been persistent in its efforts to raise the comfort women issue and criticize Japan in US media and the legislature. Another tactic it has pursued is the filing of legal claims blaming Japan at the United Nations. Meanwhile, in Tokyo in December 2000 it held an international forum, the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery, which arbitrarily found Japan guilty of crimes pertaining to the comfort women issue. These and other attacks on Japan have been led by either the WCCW or the Global Alliance.

Belief that Japan conducted systematic abductions is based on Asahi's reporting

This kind of Japan-bashing in the US reached a climax in July 2007 when the House of Representatives passed a resolution criticizing Japan, a resolution whose biggest promoter was the Global Alliance. Sponsoring the resolution was Representative Mike Honda (D-CA), who received the Global Alliance's wholehearted support in both funding and ideology.

In this process, criticism towards Japan was consistently brought to bear on the Japanese military's systematic abduction of women. The resolution includes the wording, "…acquisition of young women for the sole purpose of sexual servitude to its Imperial Armed Forces." In other words, the US House of Representatives charged Japan with this crime.

During debate of the bill, in response to being informed of reports that after the end of World War II American occupation troops in Japan had the Japanese open brothels, Congressman Mike Honda, who sponsored the bill, said the following: "The Japanese military systematically abducted the women and forced them to have sex. The American military did not, so the actions are completely different."

When Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), who led the hearing to discuss the bill, was asked exactly what the Japanese military did that was wrong, he answered, "The United States has violated human rights, but the military has not made forcing young women to be sex slaves a policy, as Japan did."

Basically, the US decided that the Japanese military systematically abducted women and condemns this point. This decision was based completely on statements, materials and reports from Japan, and these were transmitted by the Asahi Shimbun.

Yoshida's statements led to US Congressional resolution against Japan

But on August 5 and 6 the Asahi admitted that its many years of reports on the comfort women issue—that the Japanese military had systematically abducted women—were untrue. This means that the foundation for many years of US condemnation toward Japan has completely collapsed.

The Asahi admitted that, (1) there was no proof that the Japanese military had systematically abducted women, (2) women's volunteer corps, which it had reported were composed of abducted comfort women, were unrelated to comfort women, and (3) Yoshida Seiji's statements, which had formed a major part of the foundation of the abduction theory, were false.

This completely repudiates the belief in abductions by the military, proving that the Japanese statements, materials and reports they were based on were all fiction. These fictions caused Japan to suffer unjust criticism from the US.

The impact of Yoshida's false statements was particularly large. In the deliberation leading up to the House of Representatives' adopting the comfort women resolution in 2007, Representatives used Yoshida's statements prominently in their arguments. The material that they placed the greatest reliance upon was a report on comfort women created by the Congressional Research Service, but this report used Yoshida's statements as fact. In other words, the resolution attacking Japan was based on materials that included falsehoods. Materials with false information were also used in its deliberation. Japan has been a victim of false accusations. Yoshida's statements were also a prominent source in the UN's 1996 Coomaraswamy report.

The false reports on the comfort women issue that the Asahi has printed over more than 30 years opened Japan up to criticism from the US and the international community. If they had known that reports on abductions by the Japanese military were untrue, this criticism would not have happened.

My personal honor has also suffered, as no matter how much I tried to explain the truth Americans would repeat the same phrase, "It is undeniable that 200,000 young women were abducted and forced into prostitution."

Now that the Asahi Shimbun has burdened Japan with these disproven crimes, how does it intend to take responsibility?

The author is a highly respected and experienced Japanese journalist who currently serves as Editor-at-Large for the Washington DC Bureau of the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan's national dailies. He has also written more than 30 books primarily on Japan and its relationships with the world.

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