Question: The government has explained that no documents exist that provide direct evidence for forcible taking away of women, in which the military or police abducted women like kidnappers and forced them to become comfort women. Was there in fact no forcible taking away of the women?

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In 1991 and 1992, when interest was focused on the comfort women issue, The Asahi Shimbun reported that Korean comfort women had been "forcibly taken away." In addition to introducing as one example of forcible taking away of women the testimony about "hunting comfort women" on Jeju Island made by Seiji Yoshida (explained in the next section), the Asahi also published an editorial on Jan. 12, 1992, shortly before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa visited South Korea. With a title of "Do not avoid looking at history," the editorial said "(comfort women) were recruited or forcibly taken away under the name of 'teishintai' (volunteer corps)."

Progress had not been made at that time in finding documents related to comfort women, so even experts used the term without sufficient proof. In the mid-1980s, Ikuhiko Hata wrote that Korean comfort women "were recruited in a form that was close to forcibly being taken away." (Note 1)

Originally, the "forcible taking away of Koreans" referred in general to the mobilization during the war of Korean people who were under the colonial domination of Japan as laborers in coal and other mines both in Japan and in areas under military occupation. The mobilization was conducted regardless of the intent of the individuals and under a government plan. (Note 2) An ethnic Korean researcher living in Japan who looked into the matter in the 1960s called such mobilization forcible taking away of Koreans (Note 3) and the term became widely used in the mass media. As a result, there was a wide range in the definition of forcible taking away depending on who was using the term.

Under such circumstances, the definition of forcible taking away of comfort women has also been a topic in which differences still exist among various researchers. There are some who hold the view that it should be limited to "'hunting for comfort women' or taking away of people that is close to 'kidnapping' based on the exercise of authority by the public authorities." (Note 4) There are others who hold the view that it should include "taking away through abduction, kidnapping and human trafficking by agents who were selected by the military or colonial government." (Note 5)

The process by which comfort women were gathered on the Korean Peninsula gradually became clearer based on testimony provided by former comfort women who came forward to speak about their experiences in and after 1991.

In February 1993, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan published a volume that contained the testimony of 19 former comfort women from about 40 in total. The 19 women were chosen because the group had confidence in their reliability, according to Chung Chin-sung, the chairperson of the research group affiliated with the council. Four of the women spoke of "violence by military personnel or civilians working for the military." Many of the women said they were kidnapped after they were coaxed by sweet talk by agents, or were taken after being fooled.

Regardless of how they were recruited, the comfort women spoke of the suffering they experienced, being forced to provide sex while having their freedom taken away for the military in the front lines of combat. They also talked about the fear they felt from the violence and bombing as well as such after-effects as sexually transmitted diseases and sterility.

The statement issued in August 1993 under the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono of the Miyazawa administration (the Kono statement) acknowledged "(comfort women) lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere" and "their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc."

It is said the investigation conducted by the Japanese government at related ministries and agencies, as well as at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, could not confirm on the Korean Peninsula "forcible taking away in the narrow sense of the term" in which the exercise of force was carried out in an organized manner under the will of the military. For that reason, the statement viewed "coercion" in which the women had their free will taken from them in the comfort stations at the front lines as the issue, rather than "forcible taking away."

In July 1993, a month before the Kono statement was released, the Japanese government interviewed former comfort women in Seoul at the office of the Association for Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families. The report released in June 2014 by the team studying the process through which the Kono statement was compiled said the objective of the interviews was "to deeply understand the feelings of the former comfort women by showing concern for them." The report said that no further investigation was conducted at the time to support the testimony given.

On the day after the Kono statement was released, the Asahi ran a front page story with the headline "Apology after acknowledging 'coercion' on comfort women, 'generally against their will.' "

The Yomiuri, Mainichi and Sankei newspapers all reported that the Kono statement acknowledged "forcible taking away," but the Asahi did not use "forcible taking away."

Looking back, the reporter, 51, in the Political News Section who was covering the chief Cabinet secretary at that time assumes that "coercion" rather than "forcible taking away" was used because there was a difference in interpretation even among specialists.

"What could be read from the statement, the news conference and our news gathering until then was that the government acknowledged forcible taking away in the wide sense that it went against the will of the individual," the reporter said. "However, we felt that if we used the term 'forcible taking away' it might lead to misunderstanding among the readers so we chose more careful wording."

Since 1993, the Asahi has tried not to use the term "forcible taking away" as much as possible.

In the spring of 1997, when the topic of comfort women first emerged in junior high school textbooks, The Asahi Shimbun ran special coverage on the comfort women issue in its March 31, 1997, edition.

No official documents were found that directly showed forcible taking away by the military on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, where the people living there were made "subjects" of the Japanese Empire under Japanese colonial rule. Prostitution agents were prevalent due to the poverty and patriarchal family system. For that reason, even if the military was not directly involved, it is said it was possible to gather many women through such methods as work-related scams and human trafficking.

On the other hand, in areas under occupation by the Japanese military, such as Indonesia and China, entries in documents related to war crimes trials by the Allied forces included testimonies that showed local women being forcibly taken away by soldiers and made comfort women. In Indonesia, Dutch women living there were also made comfort women.

In the 1997 special coverage, the Asahi concluded, "it can be said that coercion existed in cases where women were physically forced to remain at the comfort station against their will."

Ever since the Kono statement was issued, all succeeding administrations, including the current Abe administration, have continued to abide by it. At the same time, some politicians and experts have repeatedly made the argument to the effect that the central government does not have to bear any responsibility on grounds "there was no forcible taking away." That argument is based on the fact that no official documents of the Japanese government have been found that show the Japanese military directly taking away the comfort women.

There is a need for further research to determine how comfort women were gathered in the various locations, including the Korean Peninsula. But the essence of the issue is that women lost their freedom and had their dignity taken away at the comfort stations that could not have existed without the involvement of the military.

The awareness of the issue by Asahi regarding its coverage of the comfort women issue has not changed at all.

Note 1: "Jugun Ianfu (Seizoku)" (Military comfort women: original, sequel) in "Nihon Rikugun no Hon Sokaisetsu" (The book of the Japanese Army, complete analysis) (Jiyukokuminsha Co., 1985) compiled by research group on army history

Note 2: Masaru Tonomura "Chosenjin Kyosei Renko" (Forcible taking away of Koreans) (Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 2012)

Note 3: Park Kyong-sik "Chosenjin Kyosei Renko no Kiroku" (Record of forcible taking away of Koreans) (Miraisha, 1965)

Note 4: Ikuhiko Hata "'Ianfugari' Shogen Kensho: Daisandan Doitsu no Jugun Ianfu Mondai" ('Comfort women hunting' testimony, examination: part 3, the comfort women issue in Germany) Shokun September 1992 edition

Note 5: Yoshiaki Yoshimi "'Kono Danwa' wo Do Kangaeruka--Sono Igi to Mondaiten" (How to think about the Kono statement--its significance and problems) in "'Ianfu' Bashing wo Koete" (Moving beyond bashing of comfort women) (Otsuki Shoten, 2013) compiled by Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center

To our readers

On the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, which were colonies of Japan, agents who worked in line with the intentions of the military were able to gather many women by fooling them with such statements as "There is good work available." No documents have been found that show the military systematically taking away women like kidnappers. On the other hand, in areas under occupation by the Japanese military, such as Indonesia, confirmation has been made of documents that show local women being forcibly taken away by the military. What is common in both cases is the existence of coercion in which women were made to work as comfort women against their will.