“Comfort Women”: Newly uncovered Japanese wartime military documents can finally settle the controversy once and for all!!!

In the morning edition of Tokyo Shimbun dated Dec. 07, 2019, I came across an article with a headline: “One Comfort Woman per 70 Soldiers: Foreign Ministry documents implicate the military’s involvement in supplying them.” According to the article, the Japanese government’s Cabinet Secretariat, which had been trying to collect information relating to the issue of “comfort women” among its archives, uncovered additional 23 documents in the old foreign ministry files. It said that the uncovered documents, which had been issued by Japanese consulates based in China during WWII, requested “one comfort woman per every 70 soldiers!”. The newly found materials clearly indicated the involvement of the foreign ministry and the military in supplying and transferring of “comfort women” or war-time sex slaves to different stations. The article stated, however, that the documents had been found in 2017 and 2018. The Japan Times, the main English daily in Japan, also reported the same in its Dec. 6th edition. I was not particularly shocked to read this as I had read something similar in my earlier history readings, but I wonder why this news was released only recently when the relevant documents had supposedly been uncovered a few years ago.

The issue of “comfort women” under the Imperial Japanese forces has been one of the most contentious and sensitive issues preventing genuine relationships to be forged between Japan and its Asian neighbors, particularly with the Republic of Korea (ROK). During the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula since 1910 and aggression into China, leading to and during WWII, many women from the areas controlled by the Japanese military were said to have been taken away from home and were forced to become sex slaves for the Japanese military. It’s not clear as to how many women were made to work as “comfort women”, but the number is estimated to be as high as 200,000 (https://www.bbc.com/japanese/35192235).

The women might not have necessarily been kidnapped at gunpoint, but many reported to have been deceived, and were eventually forced to become “comfort women” far from home in foreign lands (Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Shinjuku, Tokyo, exhibits the testimonies collected from 183 such women in or originated from the Korean peninsula).

The women in ROK who had survived the ordeal must have suffered trauma since WWII, but had to keep quiet mainly due to the political climate in the country till the late 1980s. They might have also been too ashamed or reluctant to reveal their past, not knowing how their coming-out might affect their families. However, Ms. Kim Hak Sun was the first person in ROK to come forward to reveal her past at a press conference in 1991, who later that year filed a law suit, along with two other women, with the Tokyo district court, demanding the restoration of their human dignity as well as apologies and compensation from the Japanese government for their suffering. Apparently, she was the only complainant from ROK using her real name (http://awf.or.jp/e2/survey.html). In 1992, more women from ROK, as well as from the Philippines, DPRK (North Korea), China, Taiwan, Holland and Indonesia followed suit (Rumiko Nishino et. Al: “Ianfu” bashing wo koete (or Overcoming the bashing against “comfort women”), published by the Research Action Center on Violence Against Women in War, Tokyo, Japan, 2013.). Considering their age, they might rightly have felt it was their last chance to share with the world their unspeakable experiences before it was too late.

Ms. Son Shin Do, born in present ROK in 1922 and the only Korean resident in Japan who revealed her past as having been a “comfort woman”, also filed a suit against the Japanese government with the Tokyo district court in 1993 (“Tonari-no-Son san”(or Ms. Son, a next-door neighbor), a photograph collection in memory of Ms. Son Shin Do, who filed a suit for having been victimized as a “comfort woman” and who lived through her life, produced by Shashinten jikkou iinkai, (or the executive committee which organized a photo exhibition on “Tonari-no-Son-san”), Tokyo, Japan (July 14-21, 2019). She testified that in 1938 when she was only 16, she was taken to China on a promise that she would get a better-paying job, but was forced to become a “comfort woman” in the area where she had no knowledge of the language spoken. She was taken around to several different “comfort stations” along the Yangtze river set up by the Japanese forces where she was subjected to constant sexual and physical violence.

Sadly, these plaintiffs lost their cases or their cases dismissed on appeal to the supreme court in 2003. However, many judges, having listened to their testimonies at cross-examination, acknowledged their experiences as being credible and true. The court dismissed their cases mainly on the ground that while the plaintiffs might have been “comfort women” catering to Japanese soldiers, the brothels were being run by private operators and that the military was not responsible for their recruitment and treatment during the war. The judges asserted there was no document to prove that the women had been coerced to work as “comfort women” (Nishino et al). However, it is a well-known fact that the Imperial Japanese forces destroyed as much documents as possible just before surrendering to the allied forces. The leaders made sure that no evidence would be left behind to implicate them in war crimes later on.

In support of the plaintiffs’ fight against the Japanese government, many researchers and volunteer workers in Japan assisted them by painstakingly going through both public and private archives, both in Japan and abroad, trying to uncover any relevant documents. The government at that time also conducted a study on the issue since 1991 as this had developed into a sensitive diplomatic problem for Japan.

It culminated in the issuance of the Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the result of the study on the issue of “comfort women” released on Aug. o4, 1993 (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/women/fund/state9308.html).   The statement says “…Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.”

What puzzles me is that the cases of former “comfort women” were all dismissed by the court around 2003 in spite of the statement made by Y. Kono in 1993. Another question I have concerns the “new” documents supposedly uncovered in 2017 and 2018, which were reported in newspapers only recently. Their content does not seem to be a huge new discovery from the documents which must have been considered in the preparation of Y. Kono’s statement. Perhaps the old documents that had been available to him might not have contained specific figures like the military requesting “one comfort woman per 70 soldiers”!!!

Shusenjo Leaflet(1)_ページ_1_画像_0001

Despite Kono’s statement issued in 1993, I am amazed and sad to see many leading politicians in the ruling party and their prominent supporters in Japan today are still unable to come to terms with the Japanese responsibility regarding “comfort women.” This was illustrated by two widely publicized events in 2019. One was a big controversy after the release of a documentary film “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue.” It was a work of a first-time producer Miki Dezaki, a Japanese-American. He produced it by interviewing prominent figures on the issue as part of his project as a graduate student in Tokyo. He presented the assertions made by influential opinion leaders on both sides of the issue, juxtaposing the opposing views, along with relevant news footage. The spectators were able to come to own conclusions by comparing different opinions expressed on the screen.

Some of the opinions of well-known conservative and nationalistic figures were appalling and contradictory to the statement issued by Y. Kono in 1993. They included assertions like: “those women were prostitutes in the first place”, or “they responded to private recruiters and willingly moved around with the military to earn money” or “we have already apologized and compensated to them, so why would they keep coming back, claiming additional compensations?”, etc.

Some people take the position that Japan already paid compensation to ROK for the war-time suffering of the people at the signing of the Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea, 1965, which established diplomatic relation between the two countries. However, the issue of “comfort women” was not brought up at that time from either side, perhaps because it was a painful as well as shameful part of the history for the Koreans as victims as well as for the Japanese as aggressors (http://ironna.jp/article/2282).

In fact, there were two occasions when the issue could have been resolved satisfactorily to both sides if it had been dealt with properly. One was in 1995 at the establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) under Tomiichi Murayama, socialist prime minister who headed the coalition government at that time, joined by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Party Sakigake. The Japanese government’s position had “been that the issues of reparation, material restitution and the right to claim compensation for events in the war had already been dealt with by bilateral treaties and other relevant accords.” However, after the release by the government of the First Report on the so-called Comfort Women Issue in Dec. 1994, Japan decided to acknowledge moral responsibility for the women, resulting in the establishment of AWF (http://www.asahi.com/articles/ASG8L6FQ7G8LULPT00Y.html and http://awf.or.jp/e2/foundation.html).

However, AWF was criticized from the outset by the supporters of former “comfort women” in both countries. Although the Japanese government allocated \480 million for fiscal year 1995 to subsidize the project to finance medical and welfare programs, AWD’s main capital was to come from private donations. The women took it as an indication that Japan evaded its legal responsibility, making it to remain vague. To make the matter worse, the South Korean public misunderstood the objective of the fund when South Korean media translated the “atonement money” being paid by the fund as “iro-kin” or “bonus for special service.” In addition, the territorial issue becoming another contentious matter between the two countries made the problem complicated. In fact, those women who accepted the payment from AWF were castigated by those who were critical of AWF. The fund is reported to have finally paid to 61 out of 207 women who had been officially recognized by the ROK as former comfort women. It also paid to 13 women in Taiwan and to 211 women in the Philippines. In Holland, 79 women accepted only medical care expenses, while in Indonesia the project resulted in the establishment of a facility for the elderly due to the difficulty in identifying former comfort women (http://www.asahi.com/articles/ op.cit).

A letter from R. Hashimoto (prime minister from LDP who succeeded T. Murayama) accompanied the payment, expressing his sincere remorse for the war-time sufferings caused by Japan. Nevertheless, most former comfort women in ROK found the gesture by the government unsatisfactory as it did not accept its legal responsibility. They probably felt a gap between the Japanese government’s words of apology and its deed.

Another missed opportunity for genuine reconciliation was the time when Japan-ROK Agreement on Comfort Women was concluded in Dec. 2015. In this agreement, too, Japan acknowledged the involvement of its war-time military authorities in handling of comfort women and expressed “anew its sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.” This time the government of Japan contributed \1 billion to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation established by the agreement for providing support for former comfort women. At the conclusion of the agreement, Japan also expected the removal of the Statue of Peace (or the statue of a girl dressed in the traditional Korean costume), symbolizing comfort women, placed in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul by citizens’ groups. Both governments also confirmed the resolution of the issue of comfort women finally and irreversibly (https://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/na/kr/page4e_000364.html).

Statue of Peace(Statue of Peace)

One of the conditions Japan imposed on ROK for the agreement to be implemented smoothly was the removal of the Statue of Peace, designed by the artist couple Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, placed in front of its embassy in Seoul. It kept exerting pressure on ROK to follow through what had been agreed on. However, ROK kept asserting that it was citizens’ groups, not the government, who put up the statue there in the first place. It could not therefore forcefully take it away if it was placed there legally. ROK respected its citizens’ freedom of expression. I found it childish on the part of Japan to have included this condition in the agreement and have persisted on having the harmless statue removed. This seems to suggest that Japan as a nation is still unable to accept the past and genuinely feel remorse, and that is what the former comfort women probably see.

However, the most serious error made by both governments in concluding the agreement, in my opinion, was the exclusion of the main stakeholders, the former comfort women in ROK in the first place, who were apparently left in the dark during the negotiation process. Citizens’ groups supporting former comfort women in both countries were therefore critical of the agreement. These days it’s a common knowledge in democratic countries to include all stakeholders from the early stage of discussion in pursuing any project. So why did the governments commit such a blunder regarding this sensitive issue? Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, stated that we should not put burden on our children and grand-children to have to keep apologizing for our past deed. On the other hand, Park Geun-hye, president of ROK, announced that the agreement had to be concluded the soonest in view of the age of the former comfort women (https://www.bbc.com/japanese/35192235). Still, both governments should have consulted with those women or their representatives throughout the bilateral negotiation process to come up with measures satisfactory to all parties.

After the removal of Park Geun-hye from power and the election of Moon Jae-in into the office in 2017, the latter felt the inability of the Japan-ROK agreement of 2015 to resolve the comfort women issue. ROK then announced in 2018 the disbandment of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, though saying that it would not seek renegotiation with Japan regarding the agreement. Japan vigorously protested ROK’s unilateral decision to disband the foundation as totally unacceptable and illegal at the levels of international diplomacy. It should be added that the Constitutional Court of ROK declared the agreement as non-binding. It stated that a treaty normally went through the process of deliberations in the cabinet and in parliament before becoming a diplomatically sound document. It judged it simply as a political agreement that came about in the process of diplomatic consultations to resolve the issue of comfort women hastily (https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO53900110X21C19A2EA30000/). So, sadly, the problem between the two countries drags on.

Let me get back to the topic of Shusenjo by Miki Dezaki. The film has turned out to be a great success. However, perhaps because of its huge success, the producer is now being sued by those figures with conservative and nationalistic views who were interviewed in the documentary. They claim that they were deceived by Dezaki. They said they agreed to be interviewed, thinking it was his research project, and never agreed to appear in a commercial film. Dezaki acknowledges that the film was produced as his academic project. He says, however, that the interviewees were informed of the possibility of the film being distributed commercially. He also says that he did not twist their words or cut them off, and that the views they expressed in the film are the same as what they have written in articles or said in events they appeared in (https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190625/p2a/00m/0fe/028000c). They have been known for the views expressed in the film, and for that there were no surprises for the spectators.

Another widely publicized event that led to heated discussions regarding the issue of comfort women was the controversial art festival, the Aichi Triennale, held in Aug. 2019 in Nagoya. The art event had a section called “Non-Freedom of Expression; Thereafter”, where pieces of work which had been rejected for display in the past due mainly to censorship were presented. However, the section was abruptly closed only on the third day, mainly due to strong objections expressed by Takashi Kawamura, mayor of Nagoya, followed by many phone calls of protest. One of the displays he attacked was the statue of peace symbolizing ROK’s former comfort women. He strongly felt the statue trampled on the feeling of the Japanese people, trying to make them ashamed, and he could not accept it being displayed in a publicly funded event in his own city (https://www.huffingtonpost.jp/entry/kawamura-takashi_jp_5d9b0174e4b03b475f9c467d).

The sudden decision to close this section of the art event was severely criticized by the artists concerned and the public in general. After heated discussions of all parties involved, this section of the event was reopened in Oct. only for a few days at the end of the entire art event, but only those with prior bookings were allowed to enter for “security” reason. The issues regarding this art event have not yet been resolved, particularly because the Cultural Affairs Agency has withdrawn a grant of \78 million ($712,800) it had pledged for the event. The reason for the withdrawal was that the organizers had failed to provide necessary information that the display could stir protests when applying for the government subsidy. The organizers found this reasoning rather vague and far-fetched. The mayor of Nagoya has also refused to pay the city’s contribution to the event, arguing that the comfort women statue should not have been displayed at a publicly funded event. He said that its presence could give an inaccurate impression that Japan accepts ROK’s claim that the women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/20198/national/aichi-triennale-many-faults-).

Despite the fact that the government of Japan has issued a number of statements, expressing remorse and apologies regarding comfort women, I do not understand why some people still react the way they do to such a harmless statue of a girl. I only see their reaction as a sign of still not being able to accept our past history, though such people tend to keep repeating that Japan already apologized for the past deed and does not need to keep apologizing forever. However, the problem seems that there is a gap between the words of remorse officially expressed by Japan and how some prominent political figures keep asserting their views contrary to it without being criticized by the government. No wonder, the former “comfort women” and their supporters cannot accept the remorse and apologies expressed in words as genuine.

Japan is often compared with Germany with regard to how it has dealt with its history. The stance of Japan, having been mostly ruled by LDP during the last several decades, is such a contrast to that of Germany. Richard von Weizsacker, former president of Germany, is well respected by many Japanese, too, for the speech he delivered in May, 1985 at the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism, in which he stressed that “those who close their eyes to the past will remain blind regarding the future” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/02/Richard-von-weitsacker). This position is maintained by Angela Merkel, long-serving and current chancellor, who was reported to have said that the Germans must not forget Nazi’s crime against humanity during her visit to Auschwitz in Dec. 2019 (https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/world/list/201912/CK2019120702000137.html). Likewise, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, current president of Germany, reiterated the same stance during his recent visit to Jerusalem by expressing “our obligation to not look away from the horror of our past” (https://www.dw.com/en/german-president-steinmeier-meets-with-holocaust-survivors).

Holocaust memorial-Berlin

In comparison, a number of leading politicians, mainly from the governing party LDP, and their supporters, either still deny Japan’s history around WWII or accept it half-heartedly, but are anxious to forget it as soon as possible. That is why Japan insisted on the finality and irreversibleness on the issue of comfort women in the Japan-ROK agreement of 2015. S. Abe’s position that we should not have to keep apologizing may be understandable if Japan has expressed remorse from the bottom of the heart. However, as those German political leaders keep reminding the people, we should not look away from our past. For that reason, I find it remarkable that Germany has built the holocaust memorial in the middle of Berlin (see the above photo) as a constant reminder of its past. If we genuinely express our remorse and apologize whole-heartedly on the issue of comfort women, I would like to suggest that a statue of peace be placed in front of our parliament building or at the gate of Yasukuni shrine, where fallen soldiers who fought in the name of the emperor are enshrined as “heroes.”  This would keep reminding us of our past and could finally lead to a true reconciliation between Japan and ROK and bring peace to the former “comfort women.”

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Salt in Hammam, a Japanese style

Going to onsen, or hot spring spa, is a favorite pastime for Japanese. Overnighting at a posh ryokan, offering sumptuous meals and attractive views, is a luxury. Being a volcanic archipelago, however, Japan can provide hot spring anywhere, if deep enough holes are dug up. Thus, onsen have sprung up even in crowded cities like Tokyo, and have become readily accessible. Today we can stop at a spa on the way home after work. In the past, only deep hot bath was available, but it is not rare today to find jacuzzi, sauna and hammam, or steam bath, as well (See a photo of the hot spring spa in Tokyo I enjoy going).Spa in TokyoB

What I like the most at the onsen I frequent in Tokyo is hammam as I enjoyed it in Western Europe while I was based in Geneva. A big difference between the one here and those I experienced over there is a large vaseful of salt placed at the entrance. We scoop a handful of it and rub it all over the body while sitting and sweating there.

I thought salt was being used for the same purpose as in preparing shimesaba, or salted, vinegar-marinated mackerel, as a topping for sushi (see the photo from https://snapdish.co/d/). Salt rubbed around the fish would extract water from the flesh, making it firm. I thought it was a Japanese way to perspire more to turn flabby muscles into a firmShimesaba physique while in a steam bath.Greek Statue

What I was told later was that by scrubbing the body with salt, we let tiny grains of salt do a good job of even cleaning pores of the skin to help us better perspire. By all means, we won’t come out like a Greek statue only after 30 minutes in it. Whatever its effect may be, I prefer to sit in hammam with salt.

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The State of Nuclear Emergency Declared after the Fukushima Meltdown is Still On Today!!!

Most people in Japan do not realize that the state of nuclear emergency declared after the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011 is still in place today, about eight years after the meltdown. In relation to this state of emergency, the following situations can be pointed out.

1.  Radioactive contaminated water still keeps accumulating: In 2013 at the IOC conference, PM Abe declared that the contaminated water in Fukushima was “under control”, which led to awarding of the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo. However, contaminated water keeps increasing, and there is hardly any more space at the plant premises to set up more tanks for storing contaminated water. The ALPS (the apparatus for removing radioactive materials from contaminated water) introduced from France cannot remove tritium and strontium. Currently, about 1 million tons of water containing tritium, despite having been treated by ALPS, remain in the tanks and keep increasing (Handbook on genpatsu-no-ima, by Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, Jan. 2019). For this reason, the Japanese gov’t and TEPCO held a hearing at the end of August 2018 where they proposed the idea of diluting and discharging it into the ocean, but many experts and fishermen were dead against it (See the photo of tanks storing contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear plant, from http://johosokuhou.com/).tanks at fukushima

2.  High-level radiation from Fukushima plant is still being emitted daily: From Fukushima plant, high-level radiation is still being emitted daily. For example, daily average emission from July to September, 2018, was 5.26 million Becquerel of cesium (134 and 137 combined) and in Oct., it was 3.12 million Becquerel. On the other hand, the treated water discharged from the plant into the ocean up to Nov. 2018 contained as much as 119.86 billion Becquerel of tritium (from the blog of a SF novelist Satoshi Haruhashi: https://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/haruhashi/diary/).

3.  Unfairness of forcing Fukushima residents to live with radiation up to 20 mSv/year: fter the nuclear accident, the Japanese government raised the level of radiation exposure allowed from 1 to 20 mSv per year for Fukushima residents. Elsewhere in Japan, it is still 1 mSv per year, the standard set by International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) ( http://minamisouma.blogspot.com/p/20.html).

4.  Termination of housing allowance for “voluntary” evacuees from Fukushima, a serious violation of human rights: Up until March 2017, housing allowance was provided to families evacuated from Fukushima. However, along with the new standard of 20 mSv/year arbitrarily set by the government, evacuation orders were retracted for an increasing number of municipalities, and housing aid to the evacuees from such communities have been terminated. Those who refuse to return to Fukushima are now considered as “voluntary” evacuees and are no longer entitled to housing allowance. By terminating aid, the government is forcing them to return to Fukushima, but the families with small children still fear the risk of radiation and refuse to go back, despite economic hardship (Info. from the “Evacuees’ Cooperative Center”).

5.  The number of children with thyroid cancer is increasing although the government refuses to recognize the accident as its cause: Since 2015, exams on children’s thyroid gland have been conducted in Fukushima. Out of about 370,000 children initially examined, 272 children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as of Dec. 2018 (source: OurPlanet-TV, Dec. 14, 2018). Normally, the incidence rate is only 1 or 2 per million people (source: “Network of citizens protecting children from radiation”), but the government insists that it is due to “screening effect” and that “there is no causal relationship with the accident”. The number of cases is expected to rise in the future.

6.  Recommendations from the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) to the Japanese government (UNHRC, Oct. 2018): The government is obliged (1) to prevent and minimize, as much as possible, children from being exposed to radiation; (2) to change back from the “20 mSv” to “1 mSv” per year standard before retracting evacuation orders, especially for children and women of childbearing age; (3) to not pressurize families to return to Fukushima by terminating housing allowance. (United Nations Human Rights Council, October 2018).

The extremely serious nuclear accident happened while the Japanese government pursued nuclear program as a national policy. I wonder for how long the state of nuclear emergency will continue. I wonder how the government and TEPCO who were responsible for the accident will resolve the difficult situation we are in. I wonder if we will ever find a solution satisfactory to a large number of the victims.

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Okinawa’s Burden

Recently, I visited Okinawa for the third time, all trips being related to my support for Okinawa’s struggle against their being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Japan. Okinawa used to be a small, peaceful kingdom surviving on trade with parts of current China and Japan till the early 17th century when it was invaded by the Satsuma clan, the military/feudal ruler at that time of the southern part of Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan, and became a tributary state of Satsuma. Then, it was annexed by Japan a few years after the emperor was restored as the almighty ruler of the country in 1868. The Okinawans’ suffering really started around this time and continues even today as they are treated unfairly by the central government in Tokyo.

During the final months of WWII, Okinawa became fierce battle grounds where civilians were caught in fighting, though most cities in other parts of Japan were indeed carpet-bombed by US war planes. The Japanese military leaders made sure the hell-like fighting in Okinawa would continue for as long as possible in order to prevent the US forces from reaching the main Japanese islands. In other words, the Okinawans were used by their own government as human shield, so as many as 25% of civilians there were reported to have perished. When Japan surrendered unconditionally, the Okinawans who survived the war were put in camps for some time while the US forces confiscated their land to build bases and air fields throughout the island. So when they were released, they had little land to live on, and many had no choice but to work for US bases to survive.

In the meantime, Japan was allowed to be independent in 1952 at the signing of the treaty of San Francisco with a condition that Okinawa remain under the US. There were many US bases throughout Japan since 1945, but with exceptions of some air and naval bases in the main islands, the rest were gradually relocated to Okinawa.

The Okinawans suffered under the US military rule. They did not enjoy the kind of human rights enjoyed by the Japanese in the main islands. They were not protected by US law, either, even though they were under the US administration. For example, if US servicemen committed crime as serious as rape or even murder, they were usually not punished under the protection of the Japan-US territorial agreement. Thus, the Okinawans had to put up with injustice as they had no one to turn to.

The Okinawans’ patience reached the limit, resulting in their revolt against the US military rule, especially in the latter part of 1960s, which finally led to the return of their island to Japan in 1972. They had wished for their island to be free from US bases as most main-land Japanese enjoyed since 1952. To their great disappointment, however, the status of US bases remained unchanged. That was why Okinawa until a few years ago hosted 74% of all the US bases existing in Japan. Recently, a large sub-tropical forest in northern Okinawa was returned to Japan, reducing the portion of bases in Okinawa to about 70% today. This forest used to be a training ground for young Marines in guerrilla warfare before they were sent to Viet Nam in 1960s.

The island of Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of the total land area of Japan, yet they are forced to host 70% of US bases under the Japan-US security alliance. This is because the Japanese government still imposes heavy burden on the Okinawans for maintaining the security treaty with the US. One can imagine how much noise associated with so many US bases around that the Okinawans have to put up with and crimes involving young servicemen away from home who are outside the Japanese penal system.Futenma Air Base

One of the US airfields in Okinawa is in Futenma (see above, the photo from daisala.blogspot.com) for the Marines, and it is situated in a densely populated area. Naturally, when an accident occurs, the residents in the area have to pay a heavy price, and accidents happen too often. It is therefore said to be the most dangerous airfield in the world. That’s why the Okinawans have been demanding that the Futenma base be closed and the land be returned to its original owners. They want to see its replacement, if necessary, to be built elsewhere outside their island, but the Japanese government has been unable to find any other prefecture willing to host a new US base.Kadena USAF base

In Okinawa, there is a huge air base in Kadena for the US Air Force (see above), the largest US air field in Asia (from http://www.okinawatimes.co.jp). However, the US Air Force and the Marines don’t seem to wish to share the base. So as a replacement for Futenma, PM Abe keeps pushing for the construction of a new and larger US air field in Henoko, Okinawa, facing a pristine bay of Oura (see below, from Wikipedia), rich in coral reef and marine animals unique to the area.Henoko and Oura bay

PM Abe is destroying the precious and fragile environment by trying to landfill the bay with rocks and earth to be brought from other islands, even as far away as from Honshu. This would surely lead to environmental destruction of not only Oura bay but also other islands where rocks and earth are to be removed in huge quantity.PM Abe justifies his imposition of a new US base on Okinawa on the ground that other prefectures do not accept a new US base. But the Okinawans have been saying “no” to this proposal clearly and loudly for the last 20 years. Why doesn’t PM Abe or LDP, which has ruled Japan most of the time since WWII, listen to the desperate voices of the people of Okinawa and respect their wishes? It’s time and the duty of all Japanese to demand that equality and respect be accorded to all fellow citizens.

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Sexual discrimination at entrance to Tokyo Medical University

According to the statistics recently released by the Ministry of Education, the proportion of women in undergraduate studies in Japan as in May, 2018 reached 45%, the highest ever. They were 31.3% and 33.6% in master’s and doctorate courses respectively, also the highest ever (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL825K6WL82UTIL03R.html?iref=comtop_list_edu_n01, 2018/08/02). Despite this trend of women gaining more ground in school of higher learning, Tokyo Medical University, a prestigious private school, was recently found to be limiting the number of female applicants admitted to the school.

東京医科大学A

The school was said to have been slashing women applicants’ entrance exam scores by 10-15%. The practice apparently began around 2011 after the ratio of women among successful applicants reached 38% in 2010 (“Tokyo medical school ‘changed test scores to keep women out’”, The Guardian, 2018/08/04).

It was reported that in 2018 there were a total of 2,614 applicants to the university, of which 1,596 were men (61%) and 1,018 women (39%). After a mark-sheet exam at the first stage, 451 applicants, comprising 303 men (67%) and 148 women (33%), advanced to the second and final stage, consisting of interviews and essay writing. At this stage, 19% of men applicants (303/ 1596) advanced to the final stage, as opposed to 14.5% of women applicants (148 / 1018). Following the second stage, 171 applicants in total, comprising 141 men (82.5%) and 30 women (17.5%), were admitted. This means that 8.8% of the original men applicants (141/1596) and only 2.9% of women applicants (30/1,018) were successful as shown in the graph below (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL8254KNL82UTIL02G.html, 2018/08/02).

Successful Candidates at Tokyo Med.U

This discriminatory practice by the school was just uncovered during the investigation of a corruption involving its administrators. They had been accused of granting a back-door entrance to a son of a senior education ministry official in exchange for a handsome government subsidy.

When this scandal was first reported in the media, not only the women but also the men who are currently studying there were outraged and staged a demonstration at its front gate. They demanded that such a practice be stopped immediately and a thorough investigation be conducted. Dr. Yoshiko Maeda, the president of the Japan Medical Women’s Association, also denounced the practice, citing the law enacted in 2016 for promoting more women to be active in the labour market under P.M. Abe. The practice is also in gross violation of Articles 14 and 22 of the Japanese Constitution, prohibiting such discrimination and guaranteeing the freedom of occupation, as pointed out by Prof. Noriko Wakao at Bukkyo University (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080502000121.html).

The school administrators apologized for the practice; however, they justified it on the ground that women were more likely to drop out of school or quit the profession after marriage or childbirth. Since the medical university provides doctors to the hospitals of affiliation, they feared that there would be a serious shortage of doctors if school admission was strictly based on exam scores (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/s/article/2018080390070239.html). The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare data do support their concern. While 89.9% of men doctors usually remain in the profession 12 years after obtaining medical license, the proportion for women is down to 73.4% (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080302000139.html).

What I found sad was the results of a survey conducted among women doctors on the practice, carried out by the publisher of a web magazine targeting women in medical profession. A total of 103 responded. Among them, 18.4% were “understandable” and 46.6% “somewhat understandable” of the practice.  Though they were not fully supportive of the discrimination, they seemed to be resigned to the hard reality where it’s necessary for any institution to secure enough staff for its smooth running (https://www3/nhk.or.jp/news/html/20180808/k10011568421000.html).

When women doctors take maternity leave, it seems that they are unjustly made to feel guilty, though, in my view, the lack of adequate medical staff is mainly due to the failure of those in charge of human resource planning at national and institutional levels. Women have all the right to demand that equality in entering any profession be respected. They may also press that friendly work environment be provided to help them remain fully active beyond marriage and childbirth. This is particularly important for the Japanese women who are known to carry far heavier family responsibilities than women in other OECD countries. After all, doesn’t the government now promote a higher birthrate to decelerate the speed of population decline and encourage more women to “shine” and be active to contribute to national economic growth? In order not to allow the government slogans to become mere empty promises, women have to be more vocal with specific demands.

In relation to the above demands, not only women in medical profession but all categories of workers in all economic fields should remind the government of the fact that Japan already ratified ILO Convention No. 156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities back in 1995. Any signatory of this convention is expected to draw up a national policy to provide community services, public or private, to enable persons with family responsibilities to engage in employment without being subject to discrimination. I wonder how much progress Japan has made in this respect since the ratification in 1995.

 

 

Posted in democracy, Economic development, Happiness, Japan, Labour issues, Men and Development, Multicultural, occupation, skills training, Women & Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women and Tradition

A recent controversy in Japan relating to women and tradition stems from a life-threatening incident on dohyo, a Sumo ring on a square, earthen mound-like platform where wrestlers, clad only in a loincloth-like belt, compete for muscle power and technique. There are 6 major Sumo tournaments annually held in odd months: those held in January, May and September take place in Tokyo, while the rest are organized in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka chronologically. In between these tournaments, the Japan Sumo Association arranges tours in smaller cities to enable their residents to enjoy exciting matches in front of their very eyes.Sumo ring(from BBC news)

The incident took place when Mr. Ryozo Tatami, the mayor of Maizuru, near Kyoto, was delivering his speech on dohyo on April 4th at one of such tours. He suddenly collapsed, apparently of heart attack. What followed was widely televised on news. Several men rushed onto the ring and knelt down around the mayor lying flat on his back, but they seemed totally helpless, not knowing what should be done next. Seeing those men in utter confusion, two women, apparently medics in the audience, rushed and got onto the ring. Initially they seemed hesitant to get involved, but seeing the men doing nothing useful, they pushed them aside and started performing the artificial resuscitation (AR) procedures. Even if an ambulance had been called, the AR procedures had to be performed immediately and continuously till the arrival of emergency medical servicemen (EMS), if a life is to be saved. However, while the women were hard at trying to save the mayor, an announcement was made repeatedly over a loud speaker, ordering women to get down from the ring.

Everyone heard the male voice loud and clear. The women seemed a bit hesitant, but eventually ignored the order and continued the AR procedure until the arrival of EMS. Thanks to the action taken by these women who knew exactly what had to be done in such a situation, the mayor’s life was saved. Though what came after this incident was not on TV news, it was reported that the association’s staff had sprinkled lots of salt over the ring (http://bbc.com/news/world-asia-43652428, including the above photo) . Salt is traditionally used in Japan to drive evil spirit away or to cleanse/purify oneself/space after getting dirtied or engaging in actions linked to what is considered as impurity, including death (e.g. I had to follow the custom in my native area of cleaning hands with salt upon returning home from the cremation of my father I attended in 1971.).

The women audience must have been offended by this act as it seemed to have implied that the association had considered that its “sacred” ring had been dirtied by the women who had been on it and thus the space had to be purified. After TV viewers heard the announcement while watching the news of the women’s laudable action, the Sumo association was reported to have been bombarded by calls of criticism from both men and women for its clinging to the archaic tradition even in time of emergency. So the president of the association had to issue a statement apologizing for the announcement which, he admitted, had been inappropriate in that situation.

However, the association is still adamant in its position of keeping women away from the ring. Soon after the incident in Maizuru, the Sumo tour moved on to Takarazuka, not far from Kobe, where its mayor, Ms. Tomoko Nakagawa, was forced to stand on a podium outside dohyo to deliver her opening speech. Apparently, she had tried to have the association agree to have her stand in the ring, but the latter did not budge. The mayor found it discriminatory and humiliating, but the association defended its position of observing the “sacred” tradition, which, it said, had nothing to do with discrimination (from the article “Japan female mayor battles men-only sumo rule” appearing on The Straits Times, April 24, 2018).

The issue is nothing new. Back in 1990, Ms. Mayumi Moriyama, the first woman Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu had planned to hand out, on behalf of the prime minister, the PM’s cup to the winner of the January tournament in Tokyo. However, the association refused her, citing the tradition. A similar incident took place in Osaka in 2000 involving Ms. Fusae Ohta, then governor of Osaka (http://huffingtonpost.jp/20180404/sumou-women_a_23403382/). As far as this controversy is concerned, nothing has changed for decades.

What is then so sacred about dohyo that the Sumo association wants to keep it off-limit to women at all cost when all traditions around us gradually change and adapt to new situation? The popular belief is that Sumo, considered as Japan’s national sport, originated from rituals of Shintoism which is a collection of native beliefs and mythology, worshipping multitude of spirits, including war heroes, and practiced at various occasions such as harvest festivals (Wikipedia). Shinto faith is also popularly known to have associated blood with impurity, thus women have been considered to be ritually unclean because of menstruation and child birth. But, if men seriously believe women to be the sex of impurity, I question their mental soundness as we all, both men and women, were covered with blood when we came out of mother’s womb. After all, blood should be considered as a sign of life.Shinto shrine gate

This controversy brought back my memory from half a century ago when I was a university student in the US. I once followed a cultural anthropology course given by a Pakistani professor. I remember him telling us about an old tradition in his native society where girls/women had to remain in a special house during their menstruation. If I remember him correctly, the reason for isolating such women was also due to linking blood to impurity. It might be a bit understandable that women in olden days without effective feminine napkins or tampons available to them had been obliged to stay in a special location during the period.

Another memory in relation to this issue stems from my first visit to a Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia during my 3-year stint in Jakarta in the late 1980s. After visiting a vocational training project implemented by my office, I had some free time before flying back to Jakarta, so decided to visit a temple. When I arrived at the gate, however, I was disappointed by a sign in both Bahasa Indonesia and English, barring menstruating women from entering the temple ground. Though feeling a bit uneasy as I was indeed having my period at that time, I decided to enter the temple ground anyway. I was sure that I would not dirty the premises and was convinced that Hindu deities would not reject any visitors in modern age.Hindu temple gate

Another view explaining Sumo’s tradition of barring women from the ring is held by some historians who link its origin to Shugendoh. It is an amalgamation of beliefs, philosophies, doctrines and ritual systems drawn from local folk-religious practices, pre-Buddhist mountain worship, Shintoism, Taoism and esoteric Buddhism, evolved during the 7th century” in Japan (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shugendo). One such historian is Yuhji Seki, who thinks the Sumo association does not even understand where its “tradition” comes from, which, he thinks, is the reason behind the confusion (http://blogos.com/article/295570/?p=2).

According to Seki, Shugendoh’s practitioners have worshipped mountains as the source of mother land with abundance and good harvest. They have also believed mountain kami (or god) to be female who would feel jealous if women were on it. For that reason, women in the past were indeed forbidden to climb many high mountains. He considers dohyo as a symbolic representation of mountain, and for that reason, the Japan Sumo association still clings to that tradition and prohibits women from getting on it. In other words, he believes that the practice of worshipping mountain goddess has been the basis behind the exclusion of women from the ring.

Whatever the explanation suggested, I feel that there was no justification on the part of the Sumo association for having treated Ms. Nakagawa the way it had as we live in the 21st century. It was sexual discrimination, simple and plain. She is apparently determined to have this situation changed by making a petition every six months (The Straits Times, op. cit.). I fully support her effort as nothing will change regarding women’s issues in Japan unless we raise our voices against unfair treatment by men who justify their stance with archaic “tradition” which they don’t even understand where it originated.

Posted in History, Japan, Men and Development, Multicultural, Mystery, Philosophy, Women & Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historical revisionism and Denial

Towards the end of last year, I saw a 2016 film Denial, written by David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson. The movie was based on a book entitled History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, written by Deborah Lipstadt, an American Holocaust scholar. The book is said to be based on Lipstadt’s real experience, in which she was sued for libel in the UK by a Nazi Germany scholar and Holocaust denier David Irving. It stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt and Tom Wilkinson as barrister Richard Rampton, among others.Denial_(2016_film)

In a libel case in the UK, the burden of proof lies with the accused, and the defense team had to prove that the accuser had lied about the Holocaust. Irving represented himself. In preparing for the case, Lipstadt and Rampton toured the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and the defense team examined Irving’s extensive personal diaries. Irving tried very hard to discredit and twist the evidence presented by the defense team

During the course of the trial, Lipstadt became frustrated by her team for making her sidelined in the case and for not allowing a Holocaust survivor she came to know during the course of the trial to be given the chance to testify. Her wishes were totally rejected by her team on the ground that Irving would only humiliate and discredit the survivor on cross-examination in case her memories were shaky, which he would exploit to his advantage. Through his skillful cross-examination of Irving, Rampton successfully exposed the absurdity of Irving’s claims, while experts taking the stand clearly showed the distortions in his past written works.

Before concluding the trial, the judge momentarily wondered if Irving truly believed in his own claims, in which case he could not be considered as a liar as Lipstadt had asserted. At the end, however, he was convinced of her description of the Holocaust denier and scholar as deceitful. Her legal team reminded her that though she did not take the stand in the trial, her solid writing was the basis for it to successfully challenge his lies to win the case ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial_(2016_film).

While watching the film, I first thought it was based on a story going back half a century ago, at least, or more. I was surprised to learn that Irving had disrupted Lipstadt during her lecture in 1994, yelling her not to teach lies. The trial ended only in April, 2000 (an article Hitei to Koutei,, Shuukan MDS, Dec. 29, 2017), not so long ago, considering that 72 years have passed since the defeat of the Nazi Germany. I had imagined that the Holocaust as a historical truth had been universally recognized since a long ago. So I was astonished to find out that there were still educated people such as Irving who denied it. I suppose historical revisionist is everywhere at any period. Sad to say, there are many of them in Japan, as well.

A few days after seeing the movie and while glancing at my Facebook account, my eyes were suddenly glued to a photo posted by someone linked to me on FB. It was that of the former defense minister of Japan, Tomomi Inada, giving a speech in Tokyo. A big banner indicating the occasion of the gathering hung above her and across the stage. It said “Important Lecture to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the capture of Nanjing: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wake up! There was no Nanjing massacre!” Though I knew Tomomi Inada to be ultra nationalist and a historical revisionist closely associated with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I couldn’t believe that she would be openly challenging the official position of the foreign ministry of Japan concerning the historical incident.稲田朋美2017Dec.

I first thought it was a fake news that someone had posted on FB as a joke. However, a newspaper article confirmed that Inada had delivered a speech at a gathering of the “group seeking the truth on Nanjing incident” on Dec. 13th, the day Japan captured the then capital of China 80 years ago (http://www.sankei.com/politics/news/171214/plt1712140010-nl.html). According to the article, Inada had appealed to the audience that in challenging China’s political campaign to attempt to discredit Japan, she could not allow the foreign ministry to accept the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth. She and other speakers proposed that the Japanese government strengthen its communication ability to speak out its position. Inada stressed that “in order to safeguard Japan’s honor, we must firmly refute groundless accusations against our country” and pledged that she would focus her political career on defending national interest.

I find it chilling to see a prominent politician in Japan openly speaking such non-sense to a large audience. It’s a known fact that Japan had invaded neighboring Asian countries in the first half of the 20th century, and atrocities committed in a number of countries in the region are well documented and undeniable, which were the reasons for the unconditional surrender Japan was forced to accept at her defeat in WWII. So what about the foreign ministry’s position on Nanjing massacre Inada is objecting to?

So I checked out what the Japanese foreign ministry had to say regarding Nanjing massacre.   The following is what I found:

  1. The Government of Japan believes that it cannot be denied that following the entrance of the Japanese Army into Nanjing in 1937, the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred. However, there are numerous theories as to the actual number of victims, and the Government of Japan believes it is difficult to determine which the correct number is.
  2. The feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the actions during the war have been upheld consistently by the post-war Cabinets. Such feelings were expressed in the form of the Murayama Statement on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, and those feelings of remorse and apology were also carried forth via the Koizumi Statement issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary.
  3. Such feelings of remorse and apology articulated by previous Cabinets will be upheld as unshakable, which was made clear in the Statement by the Prime Minister on 14 August, 2015 (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/q_a/faq16.html).

As shown above, the ministry reluctantly admits atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Nanjing, though it takes a defensive position, indicating the difficulty of proving the actual number of victims. However, even if the number of the victims is disputed, that does not allow anyone to say that the incident in Nanjing never took place.  The important thing is that Japan admits the atrocities it committed in the past and expresses its heartfelt apology for the past action, and the issue of the exact number of victims should be secondary. As in the case of Irving denying the Holocaust, is Inada denying the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth entirely? In that case, all I can say is that she does not understand how to safeguard Japan’s “honor” or “national interest”.

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