ASAHI SHIMBUN’S TWO-FACED COVERAGE OF THE “COMFORT WOMEN”
For over three decades beginning in the early 1990s, the Asahi Shimbun continued to play up the story of a self-styled “comfort women” recruiter named Seiji Yoshida. Yoshida maintained that the Japanese military had coercively recruited young Korean girls for sexual servitude and that he himself had “hunted down” nearly 200 young girls on Cheju Island.
Belatedly admitting that Yoshida’s tale was a fabrication, the liberal daily in August 2014 retracted all articles it had carried based on his statements.
Except for a relatively small number of those who are ideologically committed to maintaining that the Japanese military had coercively recruited the “comfort women,” or dedicated adherents of the Asahi, I believe most Japanese today understand that the “comfort women” were not coerced into service in military brothels and that they were not “sex slaves.”
However, in its English reporting on “comfort women,” which the average Japanese seldom notices, the Asahi continues to disseminate biased stories on the subject, creating the impression in the international community that these women were indeed coercively recruited and treated as “sex slaves.”
Most Japanese unfamiliar with its English reporting would not be aware of this two-faced stance on the part of the Asahi, but it has a significant effect on world opinion—because journalists reporting on Japan almost always rely on information available in English.
Kent Gilbert, a Tokyo-based American lawyer, and Tetsuhide Yamaoka, President of the Sydney-based Australia-Japan Community Network (AJCN), have been working together to get the Asahi to stop its duplicitous manipulation of the truth.
Yamaoka recently authored How Japan Should Fight the Information War (Ikuho-sha, Tokyo; August 2018), depicting his experience as a resident of Strathfield, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. In 2014, he started grappling with an anti-Japanese civic group made up of Korean andChinese forces that intended to erect a “comfort woman” statue.
The Japanese mothers in the otherwise harmonious multi-ethnic Sydney suburb were suddenly thrown into the midst of battle over the history of the war. Their children were bullied by schoolmates, and this left the mothers completely at a loss, as they had no idea how to cope with the situation, unable to protest as their English was limited. Realizing their plight, Yamaoka made a vow: “What I am witnessing is a fundamental problem that has a direct bearing on my way of life as a Japanese. I can’t shut my eyes to this matter.”
Information War against Japan
Yamaoka eventually founded the AJCN, involving his Australian friends in his campaign and appealing to the city council for cooperation to resolve the issue. He finally succeeded in preventing the civic group from erecting the statue, arguing that nobody had the right to disrupt the harmonious and peaceful lives of the citizens of a township where people of various nationalities and ethnic backgrounds had learned to enjoy living in unison.
Yamaoka had taken little interest in comfort women or the wartime history of Japan before 2014, he confessed, but noted that through his his campaign against the statue he could not but become keenly aware how fierce and complex the information war against Japan was. In that sense, declared Yamaoka, “Japan is already at war.”
Yamaoka’s remarks may come as a surprise to most Japanese unfamiliar with what an information war is all about. However, if we look back over history, we can see that all wars start with this type of propaganda. An information war is tantamount to a warning that more aggressive action is being planned.
In order to win an information war, one must by all means have a great many friends and supporters at home and abroad. As Yamaoka personally experienced in Strathfield, support from third parties is mandatory. In that vein, the Asahi’s English reporting is implanting in the minds of foreign readers false notions, such as “the Japanese army was evil,” “the Japanese are barbaric,” and “the Japanese are enemies of women,” by tirelessly disseminating information that fortifies a negative image of the Japanese army in connection with “comfort women.” If such reporting is allowed to continue unchecked, there will be no “third parties” willing to be on our side in our hour of need.
Gilbert had this to say when he and Yamaoka appeared on my regular “Genron TV” Internet new show as my guests on August 3:
“We’ve sent an open letter twice to the Asahi to rectify their biased English reporting on ‘comfort women’ and have received their reply. Candidly speaking, it caused me to completely lose faith in them as a respectable newspaper. We will be publishing our interchange with the Asahi in a book in both Japanese and English in order to sound the alarm at home and abroad. When people in the international community read the English edition, no one will trust the Asahi any longer.”
What has Gilbert so indignant about the Asahi’s reporting?
“In its Japanese reporting, the Asahi refers to matters relating to ‘comfort women’ merely as the ‘comfort women issue.’ However, in its English reporting, it always adds a modifier such as ‘the comfort women, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.’”
Yamaoka added to Gilbert’s explanation:
“This type of modifier—‘forced to provide sex’—is always added. ‘Forced’ would mean that physical force was used to make someone do something. When people in the English-speaking world read ‘provide sex,’ none of them would think this is an act for which monetary compensation was made. We also don’t know where the act was supposedly performed. Was it on the front lines? The clear impression given is that these women were being used as sex slaves.”
“‘Provide sex’ gives the strong impression that the ‘comfort women’ were raped and mistreated under an organized system of sex slavery. What the Asahi is doing is an outrage.”
Another problem with the Asahi’s English reporting on “comfort women,” Yamaoka pointed out, is that the daily always refers to what happened to the “comfort women” in the passive voice. He explained:
“So we requested the Asahi to specify who it holds responsible. In other words, who actually ‘forced these women to provide sex’?”
Whatever the Asahi may say, maintains Gilbert and Yamaoka, the reader inevitably gets the impression that “the ‘comfort women’ were physically coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military.” The Asahi responded to their allegation as follows
“You have stated that if a native English speaker reads our articles he or she will get the impression that the ‘comfort women’ were physically coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military. But we have used the expression in question to simply mean that the women had to perform sexual acts against their will.”
Gilbert further explained:
“The upshot is that the Asahi is manipulating the impression they wish the reader to have. It is disingenuous on their part to say this is what is written in the dictionary when they fully understand that anyone who reads this will take it to mean the Japanese military coerced the ‘comfort women’ into service in the military brothels.”
Yamaoka said that in the past 12 months alone Sydney dailies quoted the Asahi’s English reporting on the “comfort women” at least 12 times, explaining without fail that the women had been “forced to provide sex.” He noted:
“The Asahi often carries Reuters dispatches in which I regularly spot references to the ‘comfort women’ quite similar to the Asahi’s. This shows that the quality of the daily’s English reporting has unfortunately been accepted as credible enough for international news gathering organizations such as Reuters to rely on.”
The Asahi’ pompous reply to Gilbert and Yamaoka showed once again how little intent they have to accurately report the news, and only served to reinforce my low opinion of this newspaper.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 815 in the August 8-15 combined issue of The Weekly Shincho)