Question: Takashi Uemura, a former reporter for The Asahi Shimbun, reported on testimony by a former comfort woman even before the South Korean media. However, there has been criticism that he wrote the article by using his relationship with his mother-in-law, a South Korean who supported lawsuits by former comfort women, and intentionally concealing inconvenient facts.
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One article that has been described as problematic was the top article on the city news page of the Aug. 11, 1991, edition published by Asahi's Osaka head office. The article ran with the headline "Tears still well up when I remember, a former South Korean military comfort woman finally opens up half-century after end of war."
The article was about testimony given by a former comfort woman. She spoke for the first time about her experiences to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Teitaikyo). Uemura said he listened to a taped recording of the testimony on Aug. 10 and wrote the article. At that time, he was a reporter in the City News Section of the Osaka head office and was in South Korea on business.
Under condition of anonymity, he gained information about the testimony by the former comfort woman and published the article even before the South Korean media.
The major points raised by those critical of the article are: 1) He was provided favors by his mother-in-law, who was a high-ranking official of an organization that provided support for lawsuits filed by former comfort women, and 2) the article hid the fact the former comfort woman attended a school for "kisaeng" (Korean female entertainers) and was written as if she was forcibly taken away even though she had been sold through human trafficking.
According to Uemura, about six months before the article appeared in August, he married the daughter of Yang Sun-im, who was a high-ranking official of the Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families.
Teitaikyo was established mainly by female researchers for the purpose of supporting former comfort women. The Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families was a completely different organization made up of victims who had been drafted or requisitioned during the war as well as their bereaved family members.
Regarding how he proceeded with the news gathering, Uemura said: "I went to South Korea after I was contacted by the then chief of the Seoul bureau who had been informed about the testimony by the former comfort woman from Teitaikyo. I never received any information from my mother-in-law."
In order to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the former comfort woman subsequently became a member of the Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families when Yang served as a high-ranking official.
Uemura said: "I covered the story of the former comfort woman as part of my ongoing coverage of various issues related to wartime compensation. I never undertook any reporting with the objective of benefiting my mother-in-law and others."
Uemura returned to Japan on Aug. 12, a day after the article appeared. On Aug. 14, a Seoul correspondent with the Hokkaido Shimbun gained an exclusive interview with the former comfort woman and ran a scoop that named her as Kim Hak-sun. Major South Korean newspapers also ran long articles on her in their Aug. 15 editions.
In the previous summer, Uemura visited South Korea in an attempt to gain the testimony of former comfort women. However, he returned to Japan without interviewing them. He wrote in detail about his news-gathering attempt in the November 1991 edition of MILE, a monthly magazine that covers issues related to the Korean Peninsula. At that time, no criticism had yet emerged about Uemura's article.
The other criticism about the Aug. 11, 1991, article concerns a passage that said "she was a ‘Korean military comfort woman' who was forced to engage in acts of prostitution with Japanese military personnel after being taken to the combat zone under the name of ‘women volunteer corps.'" Critics said the article intentionally ignores the fact that she was sold as a kisaeng and gives the impression she was forcibly taken away by the state as a member of the volunteer corps.
The previous section touched upon the confusion that existed between comfort women and volunteer corps members. At that time, there was also confusion in South Korea over the two, and Uemura misused the term.
Kim, the former comfort woman, first revealed "I spent three years at a kisaeng school from the time I was 14" on Aug. 14, 1991, when she responded to questions from Hokkaido Shimbun and the South Korean media. The kisaeng school is a facility where girls learn how to entertain guests at parties.
According to research in South Korea, there was a difference between kisaeng who obtained the qualification after leaving school and prostitutes. There were some kisaeng who engaged in acts of prostitution because they faced economic difficulties. In Japan after the end of the war, prostitution tours to South Korea were dubbed "kisaeng tourism" and were criticized.
Regarding why he did not touch upon the kisaeng background in the August 1991 article, Uemura said, "I did not hear Kim talk about the kisaeng school in the testimony tape recording." He added: "I never knew about that. I never intentionally ignored it." He said he only learned about it from subsequent reporting in other newspapers.
On Dec. 6, 1991, when Kim filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, she included a passage in the lawsuit about going to the kisaeng school. After the lawsuit was filed, Uemura wrote an article for page 5 of the Dec. 25, 1991, morning edition published by the Osaka head office in which he describes in detail how Kim became a comfort woman and how she suffered subsequently. But he did not mention anything about the kisaeng school.
Uemura said, "I did not subscribe to the notion that she could not help being made a comfort woman because she was a kisaeng." He added, "Kim originally said that she was made a comfort woman because she was tricked." He wrote about that fact in the August article.
Also on Dec. 6, 1991, an article written by a different reporter appeared on the front page of the evening edition. But that article also had no mention of kisaeng. While other reporters besides Uemura have subsequently written articles about Kim, there has been no mention of kisaeng.
To our readers
There was no intentional twisting of the facts in the article by Uemura. The catalyst for eventually writing the August 1991 article was the provision of information by the chief of the Seoul bureau of that time. He did not obtain any special information through his relationship with his mother-in-law.