Unraveling the 'comfort women' issue

Unraveling the 'comfort women' issue
Excerpt from a collection of statements by former comfort women published by Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and others.

This is the second instalment in a series.

On Aug. 11, 1991, The Asahi Shimbun morning edition published by its Osaka Head Office carried a major scoop on its city news page.

Under the headline "Tears still well up when I remember," the article featured the statements of Kim Hak Sun, a former comfort woman living in Seoul.

An almost identical article was printed in the Asahi's Tokyo edition the next day.

The story was an exclusive that not even local South Korean media had covered.

The Asahi had already devoted considerable space to articles detailing remarks by Seiji Yoshida, a "perpetrator" who falsely claimed he had been involved in forcibly taking away Korean women to serve as comfort women for the Japanese military during wartime.

With its 1991 exclusive, the Asahi became the first media outlet in the world to share the human voice of a "victim" in this matter - a former comfort woman.

With a comfort woman coming forward, the fabrications embedded in Asahi's coverage of this issue - that comfort women were forcibly rounded up and taken away - began to take on a touch of reality.

Riddled with problems

Penned by Takashi Uemura, the opening paragraph of the article began: "A 'Korean military comfort woman' forced to provide sexual services for Japanese military personnel after being taken to the combat zone under the name of the female volunteer corps during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II has been found living in Seoul … "

From the beginning, the article gave the impression that the woman had been forcibly taken away by the Japanese military and forced to be a comfort woman.

However, parts of the story are inconsistent.

In the article, Kim explains that "when I was 17 [under the Korean way of counting ages; she was actually 16], I was tricked and made to serve as a comfort woman."

Although the beginning of the Asahi story implied Kim was taken away as a member of the female volunteer corps, she herself said that was not the case. In the first place, comfort women and the volunteer corps who were mobilized to work in factories and elsewhere were completely different.

Uemura wrote the article after listening to a tape recording of Kim's statements made by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a support group for former comfort women.

The article gave Kim's age as 68 and her name was not disclosed. But on Aug. 14, 1991, three days after the Asahi story was printed, Kim held a press conference in Seoul at which she revealed her name. The sight of Kim tearfully recounting her story through the Korean media stunned the nation and sparked a surge in anti-Japan sentiment.

Key elements omitted

On Dec. 25, 1991, another article written by Uemura on the struggles Kim had experienced in her life was carried on Page 5 of the Asahi's Osaka morning edition.

Remarkably, Uemura did not mention in his stories about Kim that Kim's mother had sold her to a family that ran a school for kisaeng - a kind of female entertainer - for ¥40.

Kisaeng learn traditional arts to perform at banquets and other events, and some reportedly became comfort women.

Furthermore, Kim has stated that her adoptive father took her to Beijing after telling her, "If you go to China, you can make money." Uemura's articles describe the person who tricked Kim as someone "doing work in the district."

It is not made clear that it was, in fact, her adoptive father.

In December 1991, Kim filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court seeking compensation from the Japanese government.

Kenichi Takagi, the lawyer who led the defence team for Kim and others, told The Yomiuri Shimbun in an interview in August: "We and Ms. Kim are not saying she was forcibly taken away as a member of the volunteer corps. She was sold after she went to the kisaeng school."

The implications and nuances of "a comfort woman forcibly taken away by the Japanese military" and an "unfortunate comfort woman sold off by her parents" are strikingly different.

Despite this, in the Asahi's special report on Aug. 5 this year that examined its coverage of the comfort women issue, the daily gave the following explanation by Uemura: "I thought, just because she was a kisaeng doesn't mean she was bound to be made a comfort woman.'"

Uemura's ties to plaintiffs

Another glaring oversight in the Asahi's coverage cannot be simply brushed off.

In its special report, The Asahi Shimbun clarified that Uemura had married the daughter of Yang Sun Im, a senior official of Kankoku Taiheiyo Senso Giseisha Izoku Kai.

The organisation, an association of families of people killed in the Pacific War, was involved in organising a lawsuit brought by Kim and others. This means Uemura was a close relative of someone involved in the lawsuit.

Tokyo Christian University Prof. Tsutomu Nishioka, an expert in South Korean and North Korean regional studies, believes Uemura has left himself open to criticism.

"There's not much Mr. Uemura can do to prevent people from assuming that he tried to use his story to benefit a court case involving a relative," Nishioka said.

Uemura was a reporter in the city news section at the Asahi's Osaka Head Office when he wrote the original article about Kim.

The Asahi has explained that Uemura went to South Korea after being contacted by the then chief of the daily's Seoul Bureau.

Why Uemura was picked to go to Seoul to write a story when other Asahi reporters were at the bureau there certainly raises plenty of intriguing questions.

The Asahi's special report tried to dispel suggestions that Uemura used his family connections for his articles, and insisted "he did not obtain any special information through his relationship with his mother-in-law."

The Asahi report concluded by stating, "There was no intentional twisting of the facts in the article by Uemura."Speech

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