JAPANESE DETAINED IN KOREA FOR DAMAGING MEMORIAL DEDICATED BY CON MAN RESPOSIBLE FOR “COMFORT WOMEN” LIES
In the late 1970s, Seiji Yoshida stepped forward as a World War II “comfort women” recruiter, spreading blatant lies about having coerced dozens of young Korean women into sexual servitude for the Japanese military during the last war.
On June 25 this year, the Korean police arrested Shigeharu Oku, a former member of the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF), for helping Yoshida’s son “rewrite without authorization” the epitaph on a marble memorial his father had erected in 1983 at the National Mang-Hyang Cemetery in Cheonan City, southwestern South Korea. Released after police interrogation but barred from leaving the country, Oku (69) is currently staying at a hotel in Cheonan pending trial.
As of this writing (June 26), Oku is slated to report to the police headquarters in north-western Choenan on June 27.
I wrote about the episode involving the epitaph in the June 1 issue of this magazine, explaining how Oku decided to travel to Korea to replace the epitaph at the request of Yoshida’s son. In December 1983, Yoshida erected the memorial at his own expense. The epitaph read that he erected the memorial in order to “express regret for (his) wartime conduct” and to “apologize” to the people of Korea who “had been conscripted and coerced (into servitude) during Japan’s war of aggression (in Asia), sacrificing their precious lives…I extend my sincerest apology as a Japanese who directed conscription and coercive recruitment operations involving Koreans.” Yoshida signed off the epitaph with “Seiji Yoshida, Former Group Leader of the Patriotic Labor Association.”
In its December 24, 1983 edition, the liberal national daily Asahi Shimbun carried a photograph showing Yoshida kneeling down on the ground in token of his apology during the unveiling ceremony, illustrating a report on the memorial’s erection headlined: “Mr. Yoshida’s Lonely Trip of Apology.” The Asahi went on to play up Yoshida’s lies until August 2014, when it was finally compelled to admit its mistakes and withdrew a total of 16 “comfort women” articles quoting him.
But the Asahi announced its decision with only the domestic market in mind, leaving South Korea and the rest of the world largely unaware of the withdrawal itself or why the daily was compelled to take such action. Last year, Yoshida’s only son turned to Oku for assistance, emphasizing that his father who died in 2000 had never been a solider or a group leader of the Patriotic Labor Association and that, as his son, he has the responsibility to rectify his father’s blunder now that the Asahi itself has formally withdrawn the articles on or about him as false. The first step he felt he should take in his position was remove the memorial his father had erected in Korea.
As the son’s proxy, Oku flew to South Korea to investigate the situation surrounding the memorial, and concluded that removing it would be physically difficult. Following close consultations back in Japan, the two decided to replace the epitaph instead. The new inscription on a new marble slab would read: “Memorial Monument. Erected by Yuto Yoshida, Fukuoka, Japan.” (Yuto is Yoshida’s real first name.)
On March 21, Oku traveled to the National Cemetery in Cheonan again. He started replacing the epitaph at 11 p.m., working in darkness to avoid the public eye and managing to attach the slab with the new inscription by 3 a.m. Oku then flew back to Japan without the Korean side getting wind of what he had done to the memorial. On April 5, Oku sent a note to the administrator of the National Cemetery, informing him of the action he had taken. In mid-June, he received a notice from the Cheonan police, ordering him to report to them immediately.
“Ready to Report in a Dignified Manner”
Explained Oku to a Sankei Shimbun reporter in a recent interview in Cheonan:
“I had no intention whatsoever of running away. To begin with, I was the one that informed the Korean authorities of the action I took to replace the epitaph. I am convinced that I haven’t done anything wrong, and am ready to report to the Korean police in a dignified manner.”
Oku said he asked the Korean police on what grounds he was told to report to them. “You are charged with damaging state property and trespassing,” was their reply, said Oku, adding that the charges don’t make sense. He explained:
“In the first place, Yoshida erected the memorial at his own expense—mostly royalties on his ‘comfort women’ books and remunerations for his articles and lectures. When did his memorial become South Korean state property? I asked the police to show me proof that proper legal measures have been taken. Then they began claiming it was a matter of Korean jurisdiction over the memorial. At any rate, I will report to the police tomorrow (June 27).”
Oku also explained how he was treated while being questioned by the police, noting:
“When I arrived at the airport, I was immediately handcuffed. I have answered the investigators’ questions honestly and sincerely, because I had nothing to hide. Presumably because of this posture of mine, they have been treating me in a gentlemanly manner. The truth of the matter is that none of them is aware that the ‘Yoshida testimony’ is a brazen fabrication. I wish to let the Korean people know that the Asahi, which has circulated Yoshida’s lies both at home and abroad, had to finally admit its mistake and withdrew the articles based on them.”
It is not clear how the news about Oku’s actions and treatment by the Korean police have been reported in South Korea. Referring to Oku’s arrest, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihida Suga had this to say during a news conference on June 26: “We are closely watching how the Korean judiciary process evolves concerning Mr. Oku’s case.” Kyodo News Service dispatched a brief report quoting Suga.
The conservative Sankei was the only daily that has reported the news about Oku to date. In view of its obvious responsibility for having for years spread Yoshida’s lies, one would think the Asahi should have reported on Oku’s case more prominently than any other daily, but the Asashi has failed to cover it as of its June 26 evening edition. NHK, which has already interviewed Oku, has somehow yet to make any mention of what he has been going through.
Why are the media outlets reluctant to report on the incident? It is perhaps because they do not wish to accept the fact that there was no coercive recruitment of “comfort women” in the first place—and do not want the public to know about it—although the Asahi has withdrawn its articles?
As for the South Korean refusal to come to grips with the truth about the “comfort women,” isn’t it simply because they don’t want to know the truth? Isn’t it because once they admit the truth, they will no longer be able to condemn Japan as the nation that brought them to great grief by coercively recruiting young Korean girls as “sex slaves”?
That is why Oku declared that he is determined to testify about the falsehood of the Asahi’s “comfort women” reporting in great detail in court in South Korea. He is ready to tell the Korean people in no uncertain terms that the coercive recruitment of Korean “comfort women” played up by the Asahi—and Yoshida’s testimony on which the Asahi articles were based—were all flagrant fabrications.
ENFLAMING ANTI-JAPANESE SENTIMENT
Oku had an intriguing thing to say about his strategy at court:
“I am planning to bring a civil suit in South Korea to have the memorial completely removed from the National Cemetery, including the new marble slab I attached last March. This legal action is actually based on advice from the Korean police.”
Oku also noted that the he was told by the Cheonan police that they had assumed that the Japanese police must have been strongly opposed to his traveling to Korea to report to the authorities this time.
“On the contrary, I replied,” said Oku. “I told them the Japanese police told me that, even if I was overseas, I should present myself to the authorities to atone for my crime, if I really committed one.”
Oku added that he was then told: “The Japanese police are the ideal of what our police should be.”
What lies ahead will not be very favorable for him, however. One cannot but feel more than a little concerned about what he will be subjected to. The present state of affairs in South Korea doesn’t allow any optimism.
The prime election pledge of Moon Jae-in was to eradicate “deep-rooted evils” of Korea when he became president. By this Moon meant a whole-sale elimination of the pro-Japanese main-stream faction under the Park Geun-hye regime in order to reconstruct a Korea that will continue to sternly accuse Japan of past crimes against Korea.
In view of the arrest, incarceration, and trial of President Park without justifiable grounds, one can hardly believe that the judiciary is functioning properly in South Korea. In addition, anti-Japanese sentiment is a convenient tool for any Korean administration to enhance its popularity. Isn’t Moon already taking advantage of this?
The Battleship Island, a Korean movie to be released next month, depicts the lives of Korean workers on the Hashima coal mine island off Nagasaki Prefecture. As has been feared in Japan, the movie is filled with ugly fabrications. As far as Korean conscripted workers in Japan are concerned, it is a fact that there was no coerced recruitment or slave labor.
On that small industrial island, constructed with the leading-edge technologies of Meiji Japan, Japanese and Korean workers and their families rubbed elbows with each other in tight quarters, constantly reaching out to help each other. And yet the movie claims that the Japanese put Korean workers to slave labor, driving many of them to death.
There are those in South Korea who will continue to twist and fabricate what Japan did during the last war. And unfortunately we now have a new administration in Seoul that is out to further enflame anti-Japanese sentiment. With this background in mind, one cannot but be more than a little concerned that Oku’s appeal to the Korean public will not be properly covered by the Korean media and will ultimately remain shrouded in darkness.
That, I stress, is all the more reason for we Japanese to keep up our efforts to disseminate fact-based information about our wartime history.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #760 in the July 6, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)