By: Tetsuhide Yamaoka
President of the Australia-Japan Community Network Inc.
The Ideological Environment of Sophia University
Recently I heard an interesting piece of news.
Early in April, a woman claiming to promote certain films visited a small theater in Hokkaido. She told the manager, "This film is very popular in Tokyo now - everyone is talking about it. You should show it here, too."
The woman was Soon-hi Seok, an associate professor at Tomakomai Komazawa University. She was promoting the film titled, The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, by Miki Dezaki.
Soon-hi Seok had published a book titled, The Historical Bond Between Koreans and the Ainu (Jurousha, in Japanese, 2017). In it, she shared her perspective, arguing "The Koreans forcibly taken to Japan don't have Japanese nationality. They are given neither equal opportunities nor equal rights. Their survival is in peril."
On April 13, Asahi Family Digital published a long interview with Dezaki, director of the film, The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, He said,
I was a YouTuber. But when I uploaded a movie titled, Racism in Japan, a lot of Japanese online right-wingers were angry, and they severely attacked me.
Later I noticed that Takashi Uemura, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter, was also attacked, just like me. It was because of his articles about the comfort women issue. So I became interested in the issue.
I felt Uemura and I were alike. We were both forced to shut our mouths.
I am an American. So when I see someone is speaking and another begins to interrupt, I will say 'No' to the latter immediately. When someone is making an accusation, there must be others behind who are minorities and are suffering. If the accusation is interrupted, their suffering would be doubled.
The interviews were recorded at Sophia University, which proudly displayed the poster of The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue at its Institute of Global Concern. Nakano Koichi, a member of the institute who was once its chief, appeared in the film.
The philosophical environment of the institute can be understood readily by visiting its homepage. Clicking the links of recommended media would lead to publications such as Sekai (The World) by Iwanami Shoten, The Shukan Kinyobi (Weekly Friday), The Jimmin Shimbun (The People's Newspaper – which insisted that the Imperial family be abolished), and so on.
Dezaki was in that environment and had relations with those kinds of people. Hence it should have been no surprise that his film, The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, was very biased.
Victims of Dezaki's Deceit
In the film, Dezaki narrates, "To my surprise, although I had developed an anti-Japan image, many conservative speakers welcomed my request for interviews."
According to his Asahi Family News interview, Dezaki seemed to think he was welcomed partly because he was a Japanese American.
If so, Dezaki was wrong. His Japanese American background had nothing to do with why he was welcomed by the conservatives he sought to interview.
The truth is, all of them believed Dezaki when he told them he had found many contradictions in the testimony of comfort women and that he doubted the theory that the comfort women were sex slaves. They thought he was an earnest graduate student who genuinely wanted to make a fair documentary film and welcomed his requests for interviews.
All of the conservative interview subjects, including Kent Gilbert, were astonished at the preview of the film. It went entirely against their expectations. It was then that they realized Dezaki had taken advantage of their kindness.
Why did they believe Dezaki's words? It was because he was a Sofia University graduate student and had nothing to do with his nationality. They thought it right to help an earnest student. But they were deceived.
Yoshiko Sakurai was probably the greatest victim of the film. She accepted Dezaki's request for an interview because of Kent Gilbert's introduction. In return, she was horribly mistreated.
A woman named Hisae Kennedy appeared abruptly in the film. At one time she advocated that comfort women were not sex slaves. But she changed her views in the film, saying without explanation, "I regret paying $60,000 to an American journalist without thinking it through."
Then the interview jumped to Yoshiko Sakurai who was asked, "I heard you also had something to do with the [American] journalist. Is that right?"
Sakurai's face clouded over and she answered briefly, saying "I don't want to touch on the matter. It's complicated."
Dezaki maliciously pulled this scene out of context and used it in the film's trailer, depicting Sakurai's discomfort as though she was guilty of something.
However, Sakurai's reservations had nothing to do with guilt. Rather, she did not want to expose Hisae Kennedy's finances, personal relationships and private matters. She was discreet, despite Kennedy’s sudden disappearance, which had been a bitter experience for people such as Sakurai who once helped her.
Yoshiko Sakurai had been asked for advice by Kennedy. Accordingly it is quite natural that she thought it best to avoid comment on the circumstances.
Although the film included very few comments from Sakurai, she was introduced again in the latter half. There she was portrayed as an alleged key speaker for the Japan Conference and leader of their campaign to "revive the constitution of the Empire of Japan and return the country to an era of militarism."
The allegation was patently false, and the Japan Conference has already issued a public statement protesting Dezaki's work, saying, "This film is a groundless delusion."
The unveiling of these falsehoods exposed The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue as a propaganda ploy spreading fabrications. It was not the fair documentary film Dezaki had promised.
Strangely, despite her prominence in the film, the name of Hisae Kennedy was not listed among the cast of interview subjects. Nor was she mentioned anywhere on the flyers for the film. Naturally, corroboration of her testimony was missing.
Did Dezaki use her as a concealed weapon because she had turned to the left? Even the American journalist to whom she had allegedly given money was exasperated, commenting, "I was deceived by her."
The veteran journalist Shoko Egawa, well known for her analysis of the cult terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, independently saw the film and tweeted as follows:
I saw The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue. First, I thought it interesting and admired the director for persuading so many to be interviewed who were opposed to the view that comfort women were sex slaves. But I soon tired of the film – it was too unfair. I had expected that the film would provide inspiration for each of us to think about the issue. Instead, it only stirred up discord and conflict, leaving me quite disappointed. (6:20 on May 7, 2019.)
Her tweet tells us that, regardless of political orientation or how much a person knows about the comfort women issue, anyone viewing it from an objective perspective will immediately understand that this movie is no more than a propaganda film.
Politics and the Tears of a Former Comfort Woman
The latter half of the film was full of delusion. But at the very end, Dezaki introduced the late Kim Haksun, a former comfort woman. In the film, Haksun cried as she recalled the shock and fear she felt when made to serve a customer for the first time. It seemed as though Dezaki wanted to make Japanese audiences feel guilty.
Sadly, his hypocritical portrayal of her was an uncalled for blasphemy against a woman who had lived a life full of hardship.
Kim Haksun was an honest person. From the beginning she spoke frankly about the fact that she had been sold by her mother to a Kisaeng house (Korean traditional brothel) and taken to China by the owner. At that time, even in Japan it was not unusual to sell a daughter to a brothel due to poverty. On the poverty stricken Korean peninsula this tragic fact of life was even more common.
It must have been frightening for those girls who were separated from their families and taken away by the brothel owners. And many girls must have thought they would be trained merely to entertain clients, but instead were made to be prostitutes. They must have been so miserable!
It would be difficult to imagine the pain suffered by Kim Haksun. But her heartfelt tears conveyed her true feelings. That is why I cannot forgive those who used women such as Kim to promote their own selfish political purposes.
It was Takashi Uemura, an Asahi Shimbun reporter, who first wrote about Kim Haksun. But he omitted the important fact that she was sold by her parents to a Kisaeng house.
Uemura’s Korean mother-in-law was once the director of the Association for the Pacific War Victims, which raised money by saying, "If we bring a lawsuit against the Japanese government, we can get compensation." Afterward, some of the members, including herself, were arrested for a fraud.
Shortly thereafter the comfort women issue developed into an international controversy. Japanese and Koreans were shocked, not because there were comfort women, but because of the fabricated story of the Asahi Shimbun that the women were systematically hunted down and some were forcibly dragged out of their houses by the Japanese military. The story said others were tricked in the name of the Women's Volunteer Corps and forced to become comfort women.
Tsutomu Nishioka pointed out in an article published by Bungei Shunju [April edition/1992] that Kim Haksun was sold to a Kisaeng house, not forcibly taken away by the Japanese military.
Nishioka later tried to meet Kim Haksun in Seoul but failed. Instead, he met and interviewed the Korean woman who served as Kim's Japanese interpreter.
The interpreter recollected a conversation where she asked Kim, "Grandma, what made you come forward?" Kim answered, "I was lonely. My relatives and friends never visit me. One day I saw some people who were former recruits on TV in the dining room. They were bringing a lawsuit, so I thought I could, too."
Reading Nishioka's report, the historian Ikuhiko Hata decided to go to Jeju Island to investigate Seiji Yoshida's allegations that he had forcibly recruited Korean women.
First, however, Hata telephoned Ken'ichi Takagi, a lawyer representing Kim, and asked, "I read that Kim was sold by her mother to a Kisaeng house. Is it true?"
The lawyer Takagi answered, saying: "She was a bad shot. The next one will be better." For activists like Takagi the former comfort women were nothing more than tools for their anti-Japan campaign and personal moneymaking.
The True Story of a Woman Who Lived a Tumultuous Life
Suzuko Shirota (pseudonym) was the first Japanese woman set up as a "military comfort woman" victim. She was born and raised in a wealthy family that ran bakery in downtown Tokyo, but the family became very poor after the sudden death of her mother who had managed the bakery.
Shirota was sent to a geisha house in Kagurazaka, where she was first ordered to do chores, However, after a while she was made to service to customers. She learned later that her father had borrowed lots of money from the geisha house.
Her first love was a student from the neighborhood. However, at the geisha house her virginity was lost to a womanizer from whom she contracted gonorrhea.
Shirota then went to Taiwan of her own will, and from there to Saipan, the Truk Islands and Palau. She seemed happier in the South Sea Islands than in Japan.
She was sent back to Japan when the American attacks were imminent. But, desperate to see her lover, she returned to the South Pacific, where she survived heavy air raids.
She loved a Japanese soldier. When the islands later fell to the U.S., she fell in love with an American soldier. After his return to America she attempted suicide. Then she ran off wandering with a student who had been mobilized for the war effort. Despairing, the two attempted suicide together. He died, but she didn't.
Various men she met loved and tried to save her, but failed. She was addicted to stimulants, gambling, smoking and drinking.
In the end she was saved by a complete stranger who led her to a support facility operated by a Christian group, where she was rehabilitated. But she broke her hip while working and stayed bedridden until she passed away.
I was moved to tears many times while reading her autobiography, Maria's Hymn (The Board of Publications of the United Church of Christ in Japan, 1971, first edition). She was a lovely cheerful girl in a wealthy family until her mother died and she lost everything. What an unfortunate life she lived!
Shirota herself mourned her misfortune but didn't blame others. Instead, she would say, "The cause is not people, but poverty," as she repeatedly borrowed money to help her poor brothers and sisters.
Only once in the book did she mention her feelings toward her father: "I wish he had been more kind-hearted," she said. How pitiful! I cannot help thinking that had he possessed the will to protect her, she would have lived a far better life.
A Fabricated Inscription in Unrestricted Warfare
Reading Shirota's autobiography, at least one thing was perfectly clear. Though Shirota lived most of her life as a prostitute, she was by no means a military comfort woman or a sex slave.
She was not forcibly taken away by the military. She gave service to both Japanese and American soldiers and at times fell in love with them. She made money to repay her debts and for luxuries for herself. Although some were kind to her, she had no family to protect her and wandered alone at the bottom of society.
Japanese people were poor before WWII, and even poorer after. There were many women like Shirota, and to all of them I offer my heartfelt condolences.
In 2013, Shirota's was the lone picture of a Japanese woman displayed in a library in Glendale, CA, where the first comfort woman statue in North America was erected. It was part of a panel exhibition on the comfort women issue, held by anti-Japanese activists of Korean descent.
Under her picture was the sentence, "I was their slave," along with the following text:
In 1938, at the age of 17, Suzuko Shirota's father sold her to the Japanese military to pay off his debt. Shirota had to serve Japanese soldiers as a sex slave at comfort stations in Taiwan and Saipan until the war ended.
The story was a complete fiction. Moreover, the inscription beside the comfort woman statue read as follows:
In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia, to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.
The inscription is another fabrication. People such as Takagi, the lawyer for the former comfort woman and Korean activists mentioned above, who assert the human rights of women but then use them as tools for their own political purposes, are despicable.
Inscriptions like the one for the comfort woman statue and other vicious fabricated stories about former comfort women will inevitably have a negative impact on people of Japanese descent living in the local communities. In addition to the insults and harassment they suffered, the image of Japan has been damaged.
Fanning the Flames with Misinformation
The Japanese government offered apologies and compensations to former comfort women, but their efforts only produced backlash and invited more attacks.
Unfortunately, ethnic Koreans with anti-Japanese leanings have been thoroughly exploited in the "unrestricted warfare" of the Chinese Communist Party. In Strathfield, Australia, for example, a Chinese political group named "The United Austral Korean-Chinese Alliance against Japanese War Crimes" was organized suddenly and instigated Korean groups to erect a comfort woman statue.
Under the circumstances, even ordinary Japanese citizens have been reviled by the propaganda. That is why many Japanese who are not academics began to raise objections to the film. The conservative speakers who appeared in The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue set an example by objecting to the propaganda of anti-Japanese organizations.
A decent scholar with or without leftist political leanings would quickly recognize that the claims of the anti-Japanese organizations are nonacademic fiction. Dezaki must have recognized this.
However, I have yet to encounter a left leaning scholar who would acknowledge the following:
- Most claims of the anti-Japanese organizations are academically flawed.
- They should leave the facts of the comfort women issue to the scholars to illuminate.
- It is completely unproductive to promote the erection of comfort women statues for distorted political reasons at places which have nothing to do with the issue, so it has to be stopped.
On the contrary, these scholars actively support anti-Japanese activists and organizations by engaging in subterfuge such as expansively redefining the terms, "sex slave" and "coercive recruitment". Their hypocrisy has undermined any solution. As a consequence, the dispute seems destined simply to continue on forever.
Selective Acknowledgement of the Facts
By the way, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, the main advocate of the viewpoint that comfort women were sex slaves, once wrote:
In Korea or Taiwan, there was no evidence that government authorities forcibly took the women away. Also there seemed to be no cases in which women were gathered and forced to be comfort women in the name of the Women's Volunteer Corps. […]
But in the other occupied areas, such as China, Southeast Asia and the South Sea Islands, there were cases that government authorities forcibly took the women away." Thirty Truths and Falsehoods about the 'Comfort Women, by Yoshiaki Yoshimi, (Otsuki Shoten, 1997, in Japanese.)
That is to say, in Korea and Taiwan where the laws were effectively applied and people were well-governed, there was no forcible recruitment of women. However, some disorder and crime was recorded in other areas.
Nevertheless, if people without any knowledge of the issue read the inscription on the comfort women statue mentioned above, they would imagine the Japanese military systematically barged into houses at will and forcibly took the women away to be sex slaves. The inscriptions are far from Yoshimi's theory and complete falsehoods which merit rebuttal.
A disgusting routine began in the film. First, activists like Dezaki appeared and derided those who raised objections to the "sex slave" theory, using labels such as "revisionist" or "denialist". Then academics like Yoshimi and Hayashi put forth endorsements supporting the activists.
Both Yoshimi and Hayashi acknowledge the comfort women system on the Korean peninsula was created against the backdrop of a traditional Korean Confucian feudal system in which men were absolutely superior to women and there were no women's rights. Certainly, it was not a situation created by the Japanese military alone.
A Dispute Settled but Never Resolved
One could say that under today's sense of values the Japanese government has a moral obligation respecting the issue. But at that time there were Korean parents who sold their daughters to Korean buyers, and there were Korean customers.
The practice was a fact of life in Korea. So there were no riots in Korean society and Korean soldiers in the Japanese military never revolted.
South Korea's Syngman Rhee administration (1948-1960) was anti-Japanese. But it is also a fact of life that the Rhee administration did not seek to hold Japan responsible or demand compensation for the comfort women matter.
Nevertheless, scholars like Yoshimi and Hayashi have encouraged propaganda with a political purpose by anti-Japanese organizations, endorsing the fabricated story that the comfort women system was a slavery system by the Japanese military. Regrettably, their lack of scholarship reflects upon their academic integrity.
If a person like Yoshimi or Hayashi had been living in the war era and met women like Kim or Shirota, would he have tried to save them?
If they think Kim and Shirota lived unfortunate lives, then they should take care of former comfort women in need and help them to live peacefully, rather than using them as tools of their political activities. If their hearts really ache for unfortunate Korean women, they should tackle the human rights of these women in today's world.
For example, prostitution was banned in South Korea, as a result of which many Korean prostitutes were sent abroad, often trapped by vicious vendors. One such young Korean woman was detained by immigration and customs at the Sydney Airport. She was shown on TV complaining in tears, "Korea drives me crazy."
Moreover, there are many reports that women who fled for their lives from North Korea to China are living in China as true sex slaves.
It is insincere and self-righteous to ignore the existing, urgent violations of Korean women's rights today, while instead erecting comfort women statues and making biased films touting war era falsehoods. Those who do so pretending to be good people, but they and all those who support them are merely hypocrites.
The Next Film will be Takashi Uemura's Story
A newsflash came across my desk as I was finishing this report. It said that Shinji Nishijima, a film director formerly on the staff of RKB Mainichi Broadcasting Corporation, may be drawing up plans for a film supporting the former Asahi Shimbun reporter, Takashi Uemura. It is said the title of the film will be The Target and it intends to develop the claim that Uemura was targeted by unjust suppression of his right to free speech.
Investigating the report, I was able to determine that funds are being raised at an Asahi Shimbun crowdfunding site named A-Port. A radical anti-Japanese activist named Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor at Australian National University, also appears to be involved in the project. About 56 percent of the fundraising target has been achieved, with about 100 days before the site closes.
Part of the film has already been recorded. The trailer begins with the sentence, "Japan's justice is in question." Activists are busy bringing lawsuits and waging information warfare. It is exhausting, but their enthusiasm presents a good example to follow.
Attacks exploiting the pitiful women who lived through the poverty and misfortune of the war era as political tools are hypocritical.
The anti-Japanese activists using these women as provocations do not aim to settle the comfort women issue.
What they really seek is simply to make Japan look like the most evil country in the history of the world. And they will use every possible means and excuse to denounce Japan and Japanese people forever.
Dezaki and his film, The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, confirmed that once again. Their target is the honor of Japan.
*Special thank you to Masaaki Shimizu for preliminary translation.