Question: Regarding an article by The Asahi Shimbun that appeared on the front page of the Jan. 11, 1992, morning edition and titled "Documents showing military involvement in comfort stations," some people have said it was "intentional reporting" designed to turn the comfort women issue into a political matter because the article appeared shortly before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa visited South Korea.
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The article was about official documents kept at the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies of the Defense Agency. They showed that during the war, the former Japanese military supervised and controlled the establishment of comfort stations and recruitment of comfort women. The documents also included orders to local units to establish comfort stations.
Questions about the comfort women issue were repeatedly raised in the Diet after 1990. Government officials responded, "We face a situation of not being able to grasp the situation at all," and denied involvement. After the Asahi article appeared, Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato said, "We cannot deny that the Japanese military in the past was involved."
Five days later, on Jan. 16, Miyazawa visited South Korea, and in his meeting with South Korean President Roh Tae-woo, Miyazawa used the words "remorse and apology" eight times, according to the announcement by South Korean officials.
Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a Chuo University professor, confirmed the existence of the documents at the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies in late December 1991. He contacted a reporter, 57, at the Asahi's City News Section whom he knew and explained the gist of the documents. The reporter considered writing the article by the end of the year, but decided against it because the documents were not in hand and other information gathering was still insufficient.
On Jan. 6, 1992, Yoshimi found different documents at the library and informed the reporter. The reporter visited the library on Jan. 7 and directly confirmed the contents of the documents and photographed them. The article appeared on Jan. 11 after further interviews with relevant officials and specialists.
According to the report of the government study into the compilation of the Kono statement, on Jan. 7, 1992, the same day the reporter went to the library, a report was submitted to the central government about the existence of the documents indicating military involvement.
Since December 1991, the central government had been told by South Korea that "it would be preferable to implement measures beforehand so that the comfort women issue does not become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea." That led to the start of the investigation by various government ministries and agencies.
In his book "Ianfu to Senjo no Sei" (Comfort women and sex on the battlefield), Ikuhiko Hata, the historian of the contemporary period, pointed out that running the article immediately before the prime minister's visit to South Korea was a "sneak attack" and "surprise move." He wrote "it can be assumed that the information was kept quiet for more than two weeks after it was obtained."
Some newspapers also reported that the Asahi article served as a catalyst for turning the issue into a diplomatic matter between Japan and South Korea.
However, the article was published five days after the reporter obtained detailed information. The reporter said, "With the government not acknowledging involvement, I thought the discovery of a document showing military involvement was newsworthy, and I wrote the article immediately after gathering the necessary information."
Moreover, the central government was aware of the existence of the documents even before the article appeared and had begun moving to deal with the possibility that the comfort women issue could become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea.
One of the documents introduced in the article was a directive issued to deployed troops in 1938 in the name of a senior adjutant to the Minister of War. The document asked that measures be taken to protect the prestige of the military by remaining in close contact with the military and regular police when choosing agents to recruit comfort women in Japan. That was because some agents had been questioned by the police after hurting the prestige of the military by saying "we have the approval of the military."
In his book "Yokuwakaru Ianfu Mondai" (The comfort women issue explained in an easy-to-understand manner), Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean area studies at Tokyo Christian University, presented his view that the document "was intended to stop agents from committing illegal acts. While it was involvement, it was ‘involvement with good intentions.'"
However, Kazu Nagai, a professor at Kyoto University, rejects the view of "involvement with good intentions." Nagai pays attention to a document issued around the same time under the name of the head of the Home Ministry bureau in charge of the police. While allowing for the recruitment and transport abroad of comfort women, the document also instructed "a serious crackdown of those individuals who claim to have the approval of the military" must be undertaken.
Nagai points out that the document asked the police to keep watch on agents to make sure they did not tell outsiders about their relationship with the military. Regarding the Army Ministry document that was reported by the Asahi, Nagai presents his view in the book "Nicchu Senso kara Sekai Senso e" (From the Japan-China war to world war) that "the document gave instructions to the military command to implement thorough notification of the regulation policy taken by police toward recruitment agents, which was a policy to conceal the relationship between comfort stations and the military/state."
In a short explanation about a keyword that was part of the Jan. 11, 1992, Asahi article, there is wording that said about comfort women, "they were mainly Korean women who were forcibly taken away under the name of volunteer corps. The numbers are said to be between 80,000 and 200,000."
There is criticism that the Asahi confused volunteer corps with comfort women. (An explanation about the confusion will be given in the next section.) While there is also discussion about the number of comfort women, there are only the estimates of researchers because there are no official records. (This is explained in the earlier section titled "What is the ‘comfort women' issue all about?"
To our readers
The article was published five days after the reporter learned the details about the information and was not intended to coincide with Miyazawa's visit to South Korea. The central government had also received a report about the existence of the documents even before the article ran. The central government had been told by the South Korean side since December 1991 that it was preferable to implement measures beforehand so the comfort women issue did not become an urgent matter at the time of the prime minister's visit to South Korea. The central government had also begun consideration of such measures.