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Japan’s checkered World War II past resurfaced when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently denied its military’s role in wartime slavery. During the war, the Japanese army maintained brothels to provide sex to Japanese servicemen, using women not only from other Asian countries but from Japan as well.
Mr. Abe’s statements are causing many to question Tokyo’s stance on the matter.
It is estimated that at least 200,000 of these “comfort women” were used during WWII. One Taiwanese woman recounted the psychological and physical torture of being “forced to have sex with more than 20 Japanese a day for almost a year” at a Japanese army comfort station (International Herald Tribune).
Mr. Abe’s comments drew criticism in his country, along with other Asian nations from which the women were taken, such as China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines. The prime minister stated that the Japanese government was going to reinvestigate the facts discovered by the previous official inquiry, which resulted in the 1993 “Kono statement” apology.
The Kono statement came from Japan’s then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who was the first to acknowledge the wartime use of forced prostitution and apologize for the country’s actions. Japan had denied the existence of these brothels up until the 1993 apology.
Tokyo insists that all wartime issues were ended under international and joint treaties. Although the government tried to quietly pay the remaining survivors by setting up a private foundation, Japan has given no official compensation to any of the surviving victims, with the majority now in their 80s.
The Prime Minister’s comments come at a time when Japan is being pressured to face up to its history. Three survivors recently testified to the U.S. Congress about their experiences in the brothels. A U.S. Congressman is attempting to pass a nonbinding resolution in the House of Representatives calling on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery” (ibid.).