ALLEGED “COMFORT WOMEN” RECRUITER HAD APOLOGY TRIP TO PYONGYANG IN MIND
On February 5, I interviewed Shigeharu Oku, a former member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) just back from South Korea after being detained for seven months on charges of trespassing and damaging public property at a national cemetery in Cheonan City, southeastern Korea.
The property in question is a marble “apology monument” erected in 1983 at the National Mang-Hyang Cemetery by the late Seiji Yoshida, a self-styled “comfort women” recruiter who had falsely claimed to have forced scores of Korean women into sexual servitude for the Japanese military during the last war.
Last March 21, Oku (69), complying with a request from Yoshida’s oldest son Eiji, traveled to the Cheonan cemetery to place a new inscription over the old inscription. The old inscription stated that Yoshida had erected the monument to “express regret” for his “wartime conduct” and to “apologize” to the people of Korea who “had been…coerced (into sexual servitude)…, sacrificing their precious lives…”
The son had explained to Oku that he could “no longer bear for Japanese-Korean relations to become strained further unnecessarily” due to his father’s false testimony which has been the “ground zero” of the conflict between Tokyo and Seoul over the “comfort women” issue. He initially asked Oku to remove the monument but later changed his mind, asking that it be covered with a new slab instead with a much simpler inscription: “Memorial Monument, erected by Yuto Yoshida, Fukuoka, Japan.” (Yuto is Yoshida’s real first name.)
Oku was detained last June 24 at the Inchon International Airport in response
to summons from the Cheonan police. Transferred on the same day to Cheonan, he was confined to a hotel there and banned from leaving the country. Seven months later, on January 11, he was sentenced to six months in prison with two years suspension. The exit ban was automatically lifted when he notified the court on January 24 that he would not lodge an appeal.
Despite his detention, Oku looked in good shape, saying he was free to walk about the city at will and make friends with his Korean neighbors and that some 30 of them gave him a warm parting feast. He observed:
“You just cannot but like South Koreans when you get to know them personally. I was banned from leaving the country and had to live in a hotel, although I had told the authorities that I would not flee. My Korean neighbors felt very sorry for me and we became good friends. The farewell party they threw for me was just great.”
Oku said the genuine kindness of the common people in South Korea was very touching, but that he found them grossly poisoned by deep anti-Japanese sentiments. Clearly, Yoshida’s fabrications about his coercive recruitment of Koreans as “comfort women” are at the root of their negative views on Japan and the Japanese. These feelings have been fueled by reports generated by the leftwing mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun, which was obviously committed to playing up Yoshida and his story. Oku remarked:
“During the trial, I had ample opportunity to review a variety of documents submitted by the prosecution. One of them was truly stunning—a hand-written, four-page petition Yoshida submitted on May 19, 1983 to the headquarters of the Association of South Korean Women Residing in Japan.”
In it, Yoshida listed three wishes: 1) adopting a Korean child from among those left behind in Sakhalin in 1945 as a gesture of atonement for someone who had “coercively forced many Korean women into military brothels”; 2) erecting a monument in South Korea in order to express a sincere apology for his wartime conduct; and 3) making a Seoul-Pyongyang round trip via Panmunjom.
Last year, journalist Miki Otaka published Removing Father’s Memorial (Sankei Shimbun Shuppan Co.) based on extensive interviews with Eiji. In the book, Eiji reveals: “Throughout his 86-year life, my father never sought anything that could be called a regular job.”
Eiji supported his father financially. Despite that, Yoshida had the impudence to propose adopting a Korean child when he had absolutely no means of even supporting himself. I was freshly appalled by his irresponsible mindset.
“Apology Trip” for Monetary Gains
His second wish came true some seven months after he wrote the petition when he erected a marble “monument of apology” in Cheonan. His third wish demands scrutiny. In his petition, Yoshida wrote: “Traffic between Seoul and Pyongyang has remained closed for more than 30 years…fundamentally due to Japan’s annexation of Korea. The Japanese owe it to the Koreans to once again open traffic between the two cities.”
Following Japan’s defeat in the last war in 1945, Korea was split in two at the 38th parallel, with the former Soviet Union occupying the northern half of the peninsula and the US the southern half of it. Enlisting the support of the Soviets, Kim Il-sung took North Korea by storm, founding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948. There is no question that the US and Russia are far more accountable than Japan for the North-South split of Korea.
Historical facts apparently mattered little to Yoshida, however. He was steadily making money by apologizing for the alleged part he played in forcing Korean women into Japanese military brothels.
Slightly more than two months after he wrote the petition, on July 31, 1983, Yoshida’s notorious memoir entitled My War Crimes (Sanichi Shobo, Tokyo:) came out. In the book, Yoshida confessed to having “resorted to violent means in hunting down young Korean women for days on end” on the Korean island of Cheju.
About the time of his book’s publication, Yoshida moved out of his old apartment into another which cost three times more in rent. He told his son who was constantly worried about money: “Stop worrying about money, son. I can assure you that between five and ten million yen will roll in soon.”
How did he intend to earn that much? I suppose it had a lot to do with what he wrote in his petition: “It has been my long-cherished wish to travel from Seoul to Pyongyang and back via Panmunjom in order to express my heartfelt apology to the Korean people for my dishonorable wartime conduct.”
At the time, Yoshida was actively engaged in a series of lecture tours across Japan to repent the “war crimes” he claimed to have committed. One naturally assumes he was duly compensated for such efforts.
Yoshida said in his petition that there were two purposes for his “apology trip” to the North: 1) he wished to seek permission from the North Korean authorities to erect a similar monument in Pyongyang to also show his remorse to the people in the five provinces in the North—Hwanghae, South Pyeongan, North Pyeongan, South Hamgeon, and North Hamgeon; and 2) he wished to deliver to Pyongyang letters from members of divided families living in the South. For that purpose, he wished to be entrusted with a letter to Mrs. Kim Jong-il from the wife of a high-ranking official of the South Korean government, which he was eager to personally deliver to the dictator’s wife. In other words, Yoshida aspired to be a messenger to Mrs. Kim while making a trip of apology which almost certainly would become a new source of earnings.
Asserting that his father had never been to Cheju Island in his life, Eiji Yoshida told Otaka: “I remember my father trying to write about his ‘comfort women” hunt in Cheju spreading a map of the island in front of himself. ”
Asahi Must Disavow Past Articles Abroad as Well as at Home
An incredulous Otaka asked Eiji how then his father could write about his experiences on the island that vividly. His reply: “That is what I have always been expecting the publishing house and all those people who were around my father at the time, including the Asahi’s writers and editors, to explain.”
The Asahi unquestionably is responsible for having prominently disseminated Yoshida’s fabrications without verification, leaving them uncorrected for so long. Shame on the daily and its staff for having published “comfort women” reports citing Yoshida’s testimony without casting doubt at all on his blatant lies.
Oku observed: “In Japan, the Asahi retracted all of its 16 articles based on the ‘Yoshida testimony,’ acknowledging that they were false, but that fact has not been sufficiently publicized outside Japan, including South Korea. I explained the Asahi’s retraction of its articles to the Korean court but, to my great shock and disappointment, neither the judges nor the prosecutors were aware of it. I ended up having to explain in great detail how the Asahi was driven to disavow all those articles run over 30 years.”
I wish to point out afresh here that the Asahi has a responsibility to disseminate pertinent information regarding this incident in major languages, including English, Chinese, and Hangul, admitting how twisted its “comfort women” coverage was because of its blind trust in what Yoshida had concocted.
What is intriguing about Oku’s account was that South Korea’s judiciary apparently initially intended to be done with his case as soon as possible. Oku explained: “During the pretrial investigation, the prosecutors told me on three different occasions to agree to pay a fine of KRW 500,000 (approximately US$500) and get it over with, so I could go back to Japan immediately without having to go to court in South Korea. They apparently did not want to let Korean society know that Yoshida was an egregious liar and that the Asahi’s ‘comfort women’ coverage was based significantly on Yoshida’s lies.
“But I argued that they must indict me no matter what, explaining that Yoshida’s testimony was a fiction, utterly fabricated. I told them why his son enlisted my help, noting that his father’s lies were carried by a major Japanese daily at home and subsequently spread across the globe, negatively impacting the world’s view of Japan and its people. I told them that this has caused all Japanese immense mental anguish, but that Eiji Yoshida, as his son, sadly has been too powerless to do much to contradict his father on his own.
“I also asserted that the monument ought to be regarded as the private property of the Yoshida family, as it was built with his father’s pocket money—royalties from his memoir, to be more precise. With his father gone now, I said, Eiji believes he has the right of property and can enforce it to dispose of the monument as he wishes. And he asked me to be his proxy to get that job done. Against such a backdrop, how could I possibly decide to forgo a trial and return to Japan by readily agreeing to pay a fine, no matter how small it might have been?”
As it turned out, the South Korean judiciary prosecuted Oku, rendering a final judgment of guilty. Remarked Oku with a wry smile: “The important thing about my standing trial this time was to let Korean society see the lies told by Seiji Yoshida and the fabricated coverage of the ‘comfort women’ issue by the Asahi Shimbun.”
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 792 in the March 1, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)