Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
JSHTR’s Campaign against the “Masochistic Historical View”
Conservative politicians and NGOs were galvanized most by the issue of comfort women. In the mid-1990s, the dispute between the Japanese government and former comfort women attracted worldwide attention, as it was increasingly framed as a human-rights violation in conjunction with awareness of violence against women during the Yugoslav Wars and civil wars in Rwanda, Cambodia, and East Timor.5 In January 1996, UN special rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy submitted an addendum report on comfort women to the Commission on Human Rights. In her report, Coomaraswamy recommended that the Japanese government should acknowledge, apologize to, and compensate former comfort women, as well as punish those who had been involved in the management of comfort stations.6 Given the growing concern for women’s human rights worldwide, Japanese NGOs organized an international symposium in Tokyo in 1997 by inviting forty guests from twenty different countries. Symposium participants then established the Violence Against Women in War Network-Japan and began advocacy activities to support three groups of female victims around the world: former comfort women during the Asia-Pacific War, women living near US military bases, and women living in countries involved in armed conflicts.7 Then, in June 1998, another special rapporteur, Gay McDougall, submitted a report, “Systematic Rape, Sexual Slavery and Slavery-1 ike Practices during Armed Conflict,” to the Commission on Human Rights. In the appendix of her report, McDougall argued that the Japanese government should do more than simply set up the Asian Women’s Fund to atone for having forced “over 200,000 women into sexual slavery in rape centres throughout Asia.”8
JSHTR counterargued that these criticisms were based on inaccurate historical facts. For example, Coomaraswamy’s report cited Yoshida Seiji’s
1983 book My War Crimes: The Forced Draft of Koreans (Watashi no senso hanzai: Chosenjin no kyosei renko), wherein Yoshida, a former soldier, testified how he had forcibly taken Korean women from Cheju Island in 1943. The JSHTR vice president Fujioka Nobukatsu rejected Coomaraswamy’s report by quoting Hata Ikuhiko, a Japanese history professor who had conducted interviews with residents of Cheju Island and questioned the credibility of Yoshida’s testimony. In fact, Yoshida himself admitted that he had deliberately fictionalized his testimony. Fujioka thus ridiculed Coomaraswamy’s report as follows: “Yoshida’s testimony was contradicted by all his military colleagues, dismissed by residents of the Island . . . and even the author himself admits it is a fiction, but it is cited in the report submitted to the United Nations commission and used as a basis for prosecuting Japan. And, in South Korea, Yoshida’s book is translated and accepted as entirely true.”9 Fujioka also questioned the credibility of former comfort women’s testimonies by pointing out how they had changed over time.10
To be sure, Fujioka deliberately inflated the significance of inaccuracies to discredit the entire issue of comfort women as historically untrue. Nevertheless, NGOs that supported former comfort women did make problematic factual claims. Yoshimi Yoshiaki and other Japanese historians who conducted research on Japan’s war crimes agreed that Yoshida’s book was not reliable enough to be used as historical evidence for the forced draft of Korean women to comfort stations.11 Japanese historians also warned that another book that Coomaraswamy extensively cited in her report, The Comfort Women by journalist George Hicks, lacked sufficient scholarly rigor: Hicks, too, cited Yoshida’s book and made various factual errors.12 Similar evidentiary problems were found in McDougall’s report, in which her estimate of the number of comfort women who had died during the Asia-Pacific War relied on an unfounded story told by LDP member Arafune Seijuro in 1965.13 In addition, while South Korean NGOs and newspapers repeatedly stated that two hundred thousand Korean women had been forcibly drafted to serve as comfort women as part of the female volunteer corps (teishintai), Yoshimi cautioned against both overestimating the number and conflating comfort women and female volunteer corps.14 Japanese historians like Yo- shimi were worried that historical inaccuracies such as these were providing JSHTR with ammunition to reject the issue of comfort women. In the heat of the controversy, however, their cautious and critical voices were not taken seriously.
JSHTR employed a similar tactic against the Nanjing Massacre, another high-profile Japanese wartime atrocity that came to be widely known beyond East Asia after Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II was published in 1997. Chang’s book argued that the Japanese military had killed about three hundred thousand Chinese civilians in Nanjing through the government’s genocidal program. It also criticized Japanese history textbooks for making no reference to the Nanjing Massacre. In response, Fujioka and another JSHTR member, Hi- gashinakano Shudo, coauthored Study of the Rape of Nanking (The Rape of Nanking no kenkyu) in 1999. In their book, Fujioka and Higashinakano claimed to have found nearly 170 inaccuracies in Chang’s book and questioned its credibility. They concluded that The Rape of Nanking was an attempt to continue the propaganda war initiated by the Chinese Communist Party during the Asia-Pacific War: “The Tokyo Trial imposed on Japan the stigma of war-criminal country, and the tendency to one-sidedly prosecute Japan’s past is becoming more pronounced in Japanese history textbooks in the post-Cold War period. . . . If The Rape of Nanking succeeds in consolidating the image of the war-criminal Japanese people, we are afraid, Japan will never be able to recover.”15
While Fujioka and Higashinakano overemphasized the inaccuracies in Chang’s book in order to discredit the Nanjing Massacre, Chang did make numerous errors and unwarranted arguments, being neither trained as a professional historian nor fluent in Chinese and Japanese languages. For example, Kasahara Tokushi, a professor of modern Chinese history at Tsuru University and one of the most respected experts on the Nanjing Massacre, was troubled by Chang’s inability to “understand the importance of critically evaluating the credibility of primary materials. She is eager to uncritically cite the statistics on victims of the Nanjing Massacre submitted to the Tokyo Trial to support her argument [even when no systematic survey was carried out at that time]. This shows that she is an amateur in historical research.”16 Kasahara and other Japanese historians were worried that JSHTR would exploit many flaws in Chang’s book to discredit the Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication, when the large number of testimonies by former soldiers as well as research by historians in the 1980s had led many Japanese citizens to accept the massacre as a historical fact.17
While trying to discredit the historical validity of comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre, JSHTR proceeded with its most important objective: writing new history textbooks. To this end, JSHTR first teamed up with Fusosha, a publishing company known for its conservative orientation, to produce draft history and civics textbooks for junior high schools. As they worked on these drafts, JSHTR established branches in all forty-eight prefectures to advertise the textbooks in October 1999. Then, in April 2000, JSHTR submitted its draft textbooks, History of the Japanese People (Koku- min no rekishi) and New Civics (Atarashii komin), to the textbook-inspection process. They also established the Liaison Council for the Improvement of Textbooks (Kyokasho Kaizen Renraku Kyogikai) in cooperation with other nationalist NGOs, including the Japan Council (Nippon Kaigi), a successor of the National Council for the Defense of Japan, which had produced New Japanese History in 1985. Together, they began lobbying local boards of education to adopt JSHTR’s history and civics textbooks. In the meantime, LDP members in municipal councils formed associations to support JSHTR’s activities.18
In December 2000, the Ministry of Education asked Fusosha to make 137 and 99 revisions to JSHTR’s history and civics textbooks, respectively, as preconditions for approval. Many of the required revisions concerned sentences that downplayed Japan’s past wrongdoings and overemphasized patriotism. The sentences marked for required revision included “Japan annexed Korea legally according to the international law at the time”; “The Tokyo Trial accepted that the Japanese military had killed more than 200,000 Chinese people during the Battle of Nanjing in 1937. . . . Since many questions about the incident remain unresolved, however, there is still controversy today. The Nanjing Incident was nothing like the Holocaust, even if t here had been some killings”; and, “Kamikaze soldiers did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for Japan.”19 After JSHTR made the required revisions, the ministry—now reorganized and renamed as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology—approved its history and civics textbooks in April 2001.
The 2000—2001 textbook inspection not only approved JSHTR’s history textbook but also reduced descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings in history textbooks that other companies produced. Prior to this inspection cycle, all the seven textbook companies had included descriptions of comfort women in their history textbooks for junior high schools, but four of them deleted the descriptions. Similarly, two of the four textbook companies that had discussed the “Nanjing Massacre” in previous editions of their history textbooks decided to use the phrase the “Nanjing Incident,” down?playing the magnitude of the event.20 These changes reversed the trend of history textbooks set in 1997, when the Supreme Court had ruled it illegal for the Ministry of Education to disapprove descriptions of the Nanjing Massacre, the Japanese military’s violence against Chinese women, and Unit 731 in Ienaga’s draft textbook.21 This rolling back of textbook descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings was linked to the LDP’s efforts to intervene in the textbook-inspection process beginning in the mid-1990s. In June 1998, Minister of Education Machimura Nobutaka had argued that “many history textbooks overemphasized negative aspects of Japan’s history especially after the Meiji period. That is why the Textbook Inspection Commission is now examining ways to help textbook editors find a better balance [between positive and negative descriptions of Japan’s history].”22 Then, in January 1999, the Ministry of Education had requested chief editors of textbook companies to revise their history textbooks to have a “better balance.”23 The Association of Young Diet Members for Examining Japan’s Future and History Education also had asked chief editors to come to LDP Headquarters and subjected them to two hours of criticism regarding descriptions of comfort women and other “biases” in their history textbooks.24
Proponents of cosmopolitanism were galvanized by the results of the 2000—2001 textbook inspection. Japan Teachers Union chairman Toda Tsunami issued a statement criticizing JSHTR for endorsing the “Greater East Asia War and failing to recognize the pains that Japan’s colonial rule and war inflicted on Asian peoples,” and twelve NGOs, including the Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21 (Kodomo to Kyokasho Zenkoku Netto 21), held a joint press conference criticizing the Japanese government for approving JSHTR’s history textbook.25 Similarly, Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo and other writers submitted a joint statement to the government. In their statement, they argued that the latest round of textbook inspection forced textbook companies to reduce descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings, and that JSHTR’s history textbook lacked sincere remorse for the Asian victims of the Asia-Pacific War.26
The South Korean and Chinese governments also joined the ensuing controversy over JSHTR’s history textbook. In May 2001, South Korean president Kim Dae Jung demanded that the Japanese government make twenty-five revisions in JSHTR’s history textbook and another ten revisions in the other seven history textbooks. Kim’s government criticized JSHTR’s textbook particularly for making no reference to comfort women and showing no remorse for Japan’s colonial rule.27 China’s Foreign Ministry, too, demanded eight major revisions in JSHTR’s textbook, including descriptions of Manchukuo, the Nanjing Massacre, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the Tokyo Trial.28 Given these domestic and international criticisms, less than 0.05 percent of the junior high schools in Japan adopted JSHTR’s history textbook.29 With such a low adoption rate, the latest round of textbook controversy subsided, at least temporarily.
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