Japanese Scholars ‘Reply to the American Scholars’ Comfort Women Statement: In search of a constructive dialogue based upon fact

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August 6, 2015

On May 5th, 2015, one hundred and eighty-seven American-based researchers of Japan issued a statement on the comfort women issue titled, “Open letter in support of historians in Japan” (hereafter, “American scholars’ statement”). It is our understanding that, subsequently, the number of signers increased to some four hundred and sixty people. In response to the challenge proposed by the American scholars’ statement, we Japanese scholars respond with the following views.


  1. Complete agreement that events should be viewed in their historical context,
    and weighed carefully in the balance

    We were struck by this passage from the American scholars’ statement:

    “[…] we believe that only careful weighing and contextual evaluation of every trace of the past can produce a just history. Such work must resist national and gender bias, and be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation.”
    We are sympathetic to this suggestion, which we believe to be an important, fundamental principle of historical research. It is cause for celebration that researchers in both Japan and the United States are in agreement on this point.
    That we are attempting a response here is due to our having detected, in the American scholars’ statement, a willingness to deal constructively with historical facts that has previously been lacking in American debate on the comfort women issue.

  2. Who are the “historians in Japan”?

    The above-mentioned agreement on a fundamental principle of historical inquiry notwithstanding, there remain aspects of the American scholars’ statement that we find puzzling, or that cause us to harbor grave intellectual reservations.
    The American scholars’ statement is titled, “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan,” and begins:

    “The undersigned scholars of Japanese studies express our unity with the many courageous historians in Japan seeking an accurate and just history of World War II in Asia.”
    It is unclear, however, whom the American scholars mean here by “historians in Japan.” Academic freedom is guaranteed in Japan, which means that there exists a broad diversity of scholars and researchers. According to the explanation provided by the American scholars who compiled the statement, they were influenced by a statement issued in December of 2014 by the Historical Science Society of Japan (Rekishigaku Kenkyūkai, commonly abbreviated as “Rekiken”).

    This Rekiken statement includes this assertion: “The forced abduction of comfort women is a fact. Comfort women were sex slaves.” It would seem that this assertion is almost completely different from the current American scholars’ statement, which includes neither the phrase “forced abduction of comfort women,” nor the phrase, “sex slaves.”

    Furthermore, Rekiken is a Marxist organization that has opposed the Japanese-American Security Treaty.
    (See link for their April 1st, 2013 statement. http://rekiken.jp/appeals/appeal20130401.html)
    Were the American scholars aware of these positions when they signed their May, 2015 open letter?

  3. History must not be used for political purposes

    In the American scholars’ statement, Japan’s “comfort women” system is understood to be “one of the most divisive issues” of historical interpretation. The American scholars write:
    We wish to ask the American scholars whether they are seeking unanimity of historical interpretation between the United States and Japan. We ask this because we believe it impossible to achieve unanimity of historical interpretation among differing nations and peoples when that interpretation goes beyond the level of historical fact. This impossibility is self-evident when one considers, for example, the differing historical interpretations of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki between America and Japan.
    “Postwar Japan’s history of democracy, civilian control of the military, police restraint, and political tolerance, together with contributions to science and generous aid to other countries, are all things to celebrate as well.”
     “Yet problems of historical interpretation pose an impediment to celebrating these achievements. One of the most divisive historical issues is the so-called ‘comfort-women’ system. This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it.”
    We affirm the American scholars’ statement when it points out the problem of Korean and Chinese nationalistic rhetoric. We, too, oppose nationalistic rhetoric without basis in historical fact when it is deployed by any country.
    From this perspective, we are compelled to point out that in the United States, too, one is able to find a mistaken understanding of the facts of the comfort women issue. In their statement, the American scholars allow that, “the precise number of ‘comfort women’ […] will probably never be known for certain.” If this is truly the American scholars’ position, then it should be an imperative, based upon this admission of great uncertainty as to the actual number of comfort women, to correct the erroneous passages in the McGraw-Hill textbook without delay.
    But the McGraw-Hill textbook is not the only site for the perpetuation of mistaken information on comfort women numbers. The stelae accompanying the comfort women statues erected throughout the United States also state unequivocally that “two hundred thousand ordinary women were abducted and forced to work for the Japanese military.”
    In addition to these falsehoods, in the Coomaraswamy Report filed with the United Nations, as well as in United States House of Representatives Resolution No. 121, the Japanese military stands accused, not only of abducting comfort women, but also of drawing and quartering them, and of slaughtering them en masse in order to cover up the evidence of their crimes. What we are asking for here is simply the correction of statements such as these that are so greatly at odds with fact.
    We believe it is our mission as scholars to bring facts to light exactly as we find them. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn away from our scholarly preserves and into the realm of politicization, as doing so would hinder the kind of dialogue and cooperation that are necessary for solving the many problems that we now face.

  4. There is no basis for singling Japan out among the twentieth-century history of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution

    In their statement, the American scholars conclude that the Japanese military’s comfort woman system was “distin[ct].” Thus,“Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the twentieth century, the ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.” If the American scholars see the comfort woman system as one of prostitution carried out in the service of an army, then we are in agreement on this point. In order to prevent rape and other sexual violence in theaters of war, and in order also to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease, the Japanese military permitted brokers to procure comfort women from Japan as well as the Korean Peninsula, which at the time was part of the home territory of Japan. In addition to granting permission for this to take place, the Japanese military also helped expedite the process of procurement.

    We object to the singling out of Japan for special opprobrium on this score, especially when one compares Japan’s actions with those of the Soviet Union’s Red Army, which permitted the rape of the women of defeated populations in Manchuria, Germany, and elsewhere; of the United States military, which used as prostitutes Japanese women provided by the Japanese government under the American Occupation; and of South Korea, which forced its own countrywomen to work as prostitutes for the sake of South Korea’s American allies during and after the Korean War.

    Leaving aside for a moment the horrors of raping defeated populations, we feel that the American and South Korean actions described immediately above show just how common and universal was the “exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women.”

    As a result of the poverty in Japan and on the Korean Peninsula at that time, parents took out loans with prostitute brokers and made their daughters work for these brokers as repayment of those loans. Such tragedies are now regarded as violations of the law. However, one can still find such tragedies occurring with terrible frequency all around the world. Human trafficking is a booming business and is still the result of poverty and famine, such as the case of the North Koreans who flee into China in order to escape the crushing conditions in their home country. As a United Nations report lays out, women in North Korean political prisons are subjected to appalling sexual abuse. Women’s rights continue to be trampled upon, even as we write.

We consider it incumbent upon all of us to strive to eliminate such tragedies without any excuse or prevarication. In order to realize this aim, we must examine, from the perspective of women’s rights violations, all of the facts from the past through to the present in an empirical and academic way. We must not allow nationalism or political objectives to distort our view of the facts.

 WATANABE Toshio 渡辺 利夫  Takushoku University *President
 NAKANISHI Terumasa 中西 輝政   Kyoto University
 TAKUBO Tadae 田久保 忠衛  Kyorin University

 ANBO Katsuya 安保 克也 Osaka International University
 ANDO Yutaka 安藤 豊 Hokkaido University of Education
 ARAI Kohichi 新井 弘一 Kyorin University
 ARAKI Kazuhiro 荒木 和博 Takushoku University
 ASADA Sadao 麻田 貞雄 Doshisha University
 ASANO Kazuo 浅野 和生 Heisei International University
 CHE Kilsong 崔 吉城 Hiroshima University
 EDWARDS Hiromi エドワーズ 博美 University of Maryland
 ETOH Hiroyuki 江藤 裕之 Tohoku University
 FIJII Genki 藤井 厳喜 Takushoku University
 FUJIOKA Nobukatsu 藤岡 信勝 Takushoku University
 FUKUCHI Atsushi 福地 惇 Kochi University
 FUKUDA Hayaru 福田 逸 Meiji University
 FUKUI Yuhzoh 福井 雄三 Tokyo International University
 FURUTA Hiroshi 古田 博司 Tsukuba University
 HAKAMADA Shigeki 袴田 茂樹 Niigata Prefectural University
 HAMAYA Hidehiro 浜谷 英博 Mie-Chukyo University
 HASEGAWA Kohichi 長谷川 公一 Edogawa University
 HASEYAMA Takahiko 長谷山 崇彦 Chuo University
 HATA Ikuhiko 秦 郁彦 Nippon University
 HIGASHINAKANO Shudo 東中野 修道  Asia University
 HIGUCHI Tsuneharu 樋口 恒晴   Tokiwa University
 HiIZUMI Katsuo 樋泉 克夫 Aichi University
 HIRAMA Yohichi 平間 洋一 National Defense Academy of Japan
 ICHIMURA Shin-ichi 市村 真一 Kyoto University
 IJIRI Hidenori 井尻 秀憲 Tokyo University
 IMAOKA Hideki 今岡 日出紀 Shimane Prefectural University
 INAMURA Kohboh 稲村 公望 Chuo University
 INOUE Masao 井上 雅夫 Doshisha University
 IRIE Takanori 入江 隆則 Meiji University
 ISHIGAKI Kichiyo 石垣 貴千代 Toyo University
 ISHII Nozomu 石井 望    Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University
 ISOMAE Syuji 磯前 秀二 Meijo University
 ITOH Ken-ichi 伊藤 憲一 Aoyama Gakuin University
 ITOH Takashi 伊藤 隆     Tokyo University
 KANAOKA Hideo 金岡 秀郎 Akita International University
 KANEKO Yoshio 兼子 良夫 Kanagawa University
 KATOH Juhachi 加藤 十八 Chukyo Women`s Universitu
 KATSUOKA Kanji 勝岡 寛次 Meisei University
 KEINO Yoshio 慶野 義雄 Heisei International University
 KIMURA Hiroshi 木村 汎 Hokkaido University
 KITAMURA Minoru 北村 稔 Ritsumeikan University
 KITAMURA Yoshikazu 北村 良和 Aichi University of Education
 KOBORI Kei-ichiro 小堀 桂一郎 Tokyo University
 KOIZUMI Toshio 小泉 俊雄 Chiba Institute of Technology
 KOYAMA Kazunori 小山 一乗 Komazawa University
 KOYAMA Tsunemi 小山 常実 Ohtsuki University
 KUNO Jun 久野 潤 Osaka International University
 KUSAKA Kimindo 日下 公人 Tama University
 MABUCHI Mutsuo 馬渕 睦夫 National Defense Academy of Japan
 MATSU-URA Mitsunobu 松浦 光修 Kohgakkan University
 MERA Kohichi 目良 浩一 University of Southern California
 MIZUTO Hideaki 水渡 英昭 Tohoku University
 MOMOCHI Akira 百地 章 Nippon University
 MURATA Noboru 村田 昇 Shiga University
 NAGOSHI Takeo 名越 健郎 Takushoku University
 NAKAMURA Katsunori 中村 勝範 Keio University
 NAKAYA Noriko 中屋 紀子 Miyagi University of Education
 NISHI Osamu 西 修 Komazawa University
 NISHIDATE Kazume 西館 数芽 Iwate University
 NISHIO Kanji 西尾 幹二 University of Electro-Communications
 NISHIOKA Tsutomu 西岡 力 Tokyo Christian University
 NITTA Hitoshi 新田 均 Kohgakkan University
 NIWA Fumio 丹羽 文生 Takushoku University
 NIWA Haruki 丹羽 春喜   Osaka-gakuin University
 NODA Yasuhisa 野田 裕久 Ehime University
 OH Sonfa 呉 善花 Takushoku University
 OH-HARA Yasuo 大原 康男 Kokugakuin University
 OHIWA Yujiro 大岩 裕次郎 Tokyo International University
 OHTA Tatsuyuki 太田 辰幸 Toyo University
 OKADA-COLLINS Mariko 岡田-コリンズ マリ子Central Washington University
 OKAMOTO Kohji 岡本 幸治 Osaka International University
 OSADA Goroh 長田 五郎 Myojo University
 OSADA Mitsuo 長田 三男 Waseda University
 OYAMA Kazunobu 小山 和伸 Kanagawa University
 SAKAI Nobuhiko 酒井 信彦 Tokyo University
 SASE Masamori 佐瀬 昌盛 National Defense Academy of Japan
 SHIBA Kimiya 柴 公也 Kumamoto Gakuen University
 SHIBATA Norifumi 柴田 徳文 Kokushikan University
 SHIBUYA Tsukasa 澁谷 司 Takushoku University
 SHIMADA Yohichi 島田 洋一 Fukui Prefectural University
 SHIMOJOH Masao 下條 正男 Takushoku University
 SUGIHARA Seishiroh 杉原 誠四郎 Josai University
 TAKADA Jun 高田 純 Sapporo Medical University
 TAKAHARA Akiko 高原 朗子 Kumamoto University
 TAKAHASHI Shiroh 高橋 史朗 Meisei University
 TAKAI Susumu 高井 晉 National Defense Academy of Japan
 TAKAYAMA Masayuki 高山 正之 Teikyo University
 TANAKA Hidemichi 田中 英道 Tohoku University
 TEI Taikin 鄭 大均 Tokyo Metropolitan University
 TOKUMATSU Nobuo 徳松 信夫 Tokoha University
 TOMIOKA Koh-ichiro 冨岡 幸一郎 Kanto Gakuin University
 TOYODA Aritsune 豊田 有恒 Shimane Prefectural University
 TOYOSHIMA Norio 豊島 典雄 Kyorin University
 TUCHIDA Ryuhtaro 土田 龍太郎 Yokyo University
 UMEHARA Katsuhiko 梅原 克彦  Akita International University
 UMEZAWA Shohei 梅澤 昇平 Shobi Gakuen University
 URABE Kenshi 占部 賢志 Nakamura Gakuen University
 USHIO Masato 潮 匡人 Takushoku University
 WATANABE Shoh-ichi 渡部 昇一 Sophia University
 YAGI Hidetsugu 八木 秀次 Reitaku University
 YAMAFUJI Kazuo 山藤 和男 University Electro-Communications
 YAMAMOTO Shigeru 山本 茂 Kyushu Women`s College
 YAMASHITA Eiji 山下 英次 Osaka City University
 YOSHIDA Yoshikatsu 吉田 好克 Miyazaki University
 YOSHINAGA Jun 吉永 潤 Kobe University
 YOSHIWARA Tsuneo 吉原 恒雄 Takushoku University

( 110 persons in all )

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