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

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. 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:

“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 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.

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

KANEKO Yoshio        兼子 良夫    Kanagawa University

KANEOKA Hideo   金岡 秀郎       Akita International 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-gakuinUniversit

NODA Hiroyuki             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 NationalDefenseAcademyofJapan

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

YOSHINAGAJun           吉永 潤        Kobe University

YOSHIWARA Tsuneo        吉原 恒雄    Takushoku University


    110 persons in all      

Japanese Scholars

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