End misunderstanding due to 'comfort women' in textbooks

End misunderstanding due to 'comfort women' in textbooks

Descriptions that invite serious misunderstandings must not be allowed in textbooks used by students.

Publisher Suken Shuppan has decided to remove the terms "military-accompanying comfort women" and "forcibly rounded up and taken away" from its high school textbooks for the subjects of "contemporary society" and "politics and economics." The publisher applied to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to make the changes, and the ministry approved the revisions.

The changes will be reflected in textbooks used in schools from April this year.

One contemporary society textbook contains the passage, "Lawsuits by people and 'military-accompanying comfort women' forcibly taken away are continuing." This will be changed to, "Lawsuits seeking compensation and apologies were filed against the state or companies."

It is indeed true that during World War II, many women became comfort women, and their dignity and honour was hurt.

However, the essence of the comfort women issue boils down to whether the defunct Imperial Japanese military forcibly took away these women or not. Not one of the government investigations conducted so far has confirmed any materials that back up the claim that the military forcibly rounded up and took these women away to serve as comfort women.

Suken Shuppan's decision to correct its misleading depictions, which also could imply these women "were forcibly rounded up and taken away" by the military, is a reasonable step.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, The Asahi Shimbun printed many articles that claimed, among other things, that the Japanese military had forcibly taken women away to force them to work as comfort women. These articles were based on testimony by Seiji Yoshida, who alleged that he had "hunted" and rounded up women from what is now South Korea. In August 2014, the Asahi retracted these articles after concluding that Yoshida's testimony was false.

A message on Suken Shuppan's website states that "changes in objective circumstances" were the reason for the textbook revisions. The Asahi's incorrect articles likely were part of the backdrop to this.

More checks needed

In the first place, "military-accompanying comfort women" is a coined term that has been used since the 1970s. It cannot be said that it is appropriate for textbooks to use inaccurate terminology that creates the misunderstanding that these women appeared to be civilian employees of the military.

These days, many high school textbooks on Japanese history and world history also contain passages about comfort women.

The education ministry conducts screenings of the content of these textbooks, based on research findings by the government and other information. However, provided there are no obvious errors, the ministry will not demand that a publisher make corrections.

As a result, a Japanese history textbook printed by another publisher contains the following passage: "There also were people taken by the Japanese military, who became 'military' comfort women."

There also are descriptions that say of the comfort women sent to the battlefront, "many were Koreans." Yet some doubts have been raised about the conventionally accepted theory that the overwhelming majority of comfort women were Korean. There is also a theory that there actually were more Japanese comfort women than Korean ones.

Last year, the education ministry revised its screening criteria for textbooks. Now, if a theory has not been clearly established, a textbook must clearly state this. If the government has a standardized view on a matter, the ministry will instruct publishers to use descriptions that match this view. Every textbook publisher will be urged to reexamine the descriptions they use.

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