I recently read an article in the Toronto Star about an issue between the sister cities of Osaka in Japan, and San Francisco. A statue was erected on San Francisco city property by the large community of Chinese, Korean and Filipino persons commemorating comfort women. Comfort women, a euphemism coined by the Imperial Japanese, were women of mostly ethnic Chinese and Korean origin forced by the Imperial Japanese Army into brothels as sexual slaves. The women were raped, threatened, and if deemed unwanted, cruelly executed by a member of the Japanese Army. It has been estimated that as many as 400,000 women were forced by the Japanese into sexual slavery, enduring torture and violence.
The issue was that Osaka’s government, like many others in Japan, including the national government, is a denier of comfort women, and as a result of its denial, decided to sever all bilateral relations between the two cities. Denial of wartime atrocities by the Japanese political elite is extremely common. Many politicians in Japan deny historical facts like the existence of sex slaves and, most infamously, the Rape of Nanking, where soldiers of the the Imperial Japanese Army, with no remorse whatsoever, murdered over 300,000 unarmed Chinese civilians. Many were tortured and raped before being killed, having their corpses mutilated and then dumped into the river. There is a consensus among historians and witnesses alike that this massacre was orchestrated by the Imperial Japanese Army, and that the denial of such a well-documented event was absurd, but, alas, many in Japan still find it necessary to deny all of their war crimes, to write alternate history books claimed as being the ‘right’ history where Japan’s crimes against humanity are downplayed or denied, and to even honour the generals responsible for such horrible events in their ‘Shrine for the War Dead’, Yasukuni.
This is in stark contrast to the sentiment of the Germans after they lost their theatre of the war. The German government, to this day, is still remorseful for the crimes against humanity its predecessor committed, actively apologising to the peoples it has previously massacred, and mandating that this remorse and apologetic nature be passed onto the next generation through education. To this day, the Japanese government has yet explicitly to apologise for its actions in WWII and to compensate those affected by those actions, something that the Germans do often. It’s not even the first time such a diplomatic incident has occured over the issue of comfort women. When the city of Seoul, in South Korea, and Busan erected two identical statues commemorating comfort women in 2011, it caused a minor diplomatic spat between the two countries, Korea was a colony of Japan before and during the war where the destruction of Korean culture and the assimilation of the Koreans into the Japanese nation was the priority. While I, as an ethnic Chinese, might be slightly biased towards this subject, I would like to ask you how you would feel if the state that slaughtered your ancestors and fellow countrymen denied that it ever happened, that state going so far as to claim the event as a fabrication for the sake of propaganda. How would you feel? I feel repulsed whenever I hear another common report that another Japanese politician denied comfort women or the Rape of Nanking. I find it very unfortunate that the government of Japan acts in such a despicable manner, because generations of Chinese and Koreans have grown up disliking the Japanese people due in entirety to their government’s actions. The Japanese are a people that have contributed to the world so many things, things like anime or video games, but the image of these hard working, innovative people will be sullied for generations by the simple actions of the few politicians that deny the past.