2016: Flawed Japan-ROK Attempt

Japanische und Koreanische Regierung einigen sich: 28.12.2015
Erklärung veröffentlicht am 14..01.2016

Source: Asia-Pacific-Journal / Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 5 | Number 3 | March 1, 2016
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnsi von Japan Focus

The Flawed Japan-ROK Attempt to Resolve the Controversy Over Wartime Sexual Slavery and the Case of Park Yuha

Introduction and translation by Rumi Sakamoto
Kitahara Minori's Facebook post, 26 January, 2016
Kim Puja, "New Theory without a Basis? Should We be Lionising Park Yuha?",
Shukan Kinyobi 2015.12.11 (no. 1067)

To many, the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement to finally settle the Korean "comfort women" issue came as a surprise. For over two decades Japan's wartime military sexual slavery remained the single most contentious issue dividing Japan and South Korea, severely affecting the bilateral relations and even becoming a concern for the US, which saw the tension between two of its allies in the Asia Pacific as troublesome. The 2015 comfort women agreement has promised that, with Japan's one billion yen funding to assist the survivors together with a sincere apology, the "comfort women" issue will be "finally and irrevocably" resolved. While some media hailed this as a landmark resolution and an opening of a new, more positive era for Japan-Korea relations, it has also provoked a deep sense of dissatisfaction and anger among "comfort women" advocacy groups, feminists and the former Korean "comfort women" themselves. It seems clear that the state-state "agreement" (made without any consultation with the survivors) will not restore "dignity and honour" to the victims. After all, one of the origins of current antagonisms surrounding the "comfort women" issue is another state-state deal, the 1965 Japan-ROK Basic Relations Treaty, which failed to address the "comfort women" and closed the door on individual redress claims. The recent agreement is not the end of the "comfort women" issue – especially for the survivors.

F: Park Yuha and the Korean edition of her book

The two pieces below, translated from Japanese, address a controversy surrounding Park Yuha's book,Comfort Women of the Empire (2013). Park is an academic at Sejong University with a PhD from Waseda University, Tokyo, and has written on Japanese literature, colonial literature and Japan-Korea relations (Her 2008 publication with Asia-Pacific Journal, "Victims of Japanese Imperial Discourse: Korean Literature under Colonial Rule" is available here). In 2014, following the publication of Comfort Women of the Empire, Park was sued for defamation against nine former Korean "comfort women". In January 2016, after the first trial, a South Korean court ordered her to pay compensation to the nine former "comfort women" for the emotional distress that the book inflicted on them. Revision of the passages that were deemed defamatory was ordered. This was followed by another court order in February that her salary would be partially seized until she pays the required compensation.

The controversy focused on the book's interpretation of the Korean "comfort women" system. It states,
for example, that there is no evidence of a government policy of forcible recruitment, that the majority of the Korean "comfort women" were not teenage girls but in their 20s and 30, and that there were cases of romance between Korean "comfort women" and Japanese soldiers. Critics found descriptions of some of the relationships between "comfort women" and Japanese soldiers as "comrade-like" particularly problematic. Because of such a view, Park Yuha has been vilified in South Korea as an apologist for the Japanese colonial state, while some Korean academics have expressed support for her on the grounds that academic freedom is threatened.

In Japan (the Japanese edition was published in 2014), her book has generally been received positively and sympathetically and has also won two awards. The overall tone of Japanese mass media and reviewers has been that Comfort Women of the Empire is a courageous work that challenges the dominant narrative in Korea on the "comfort women" as pure victims by offering a more nuanced and complex understanding. In this view, Park's indictment is an infringement on the freedom of scholarship. For example, see a statement issued by 57 Japanese and US scholars in support of Park and Maeda Akira,"The South Korean Controversy Over the Comfort Women, Justice and Academic Freedom," translated and introduced by Caroline Norma. The two translated Japanese texts below challenge the understanding of Park as a victim-hero.

F: Kitahara Minori and her book

The first piece is a Facebook post by Kitahara Minori, a feminist writer, activist and co-author of Okusama wa aikoku (patriotic housewives). This is a report of an event held in January 2016 with a visiting Korean former "comfort women". It includes the text of a speech by Ms Ahn, the manager of the House of Nanum (a group home where several former Korean "comfort women" – halmonis – live. The nine plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Park Yu-ha are all residents). Ms Ahn was directly involved in the lawsuits over Park Yuha's book, and here she explains in some detail the sequence of events that led to the charges and court decision. Professor Park has since responded to this Facebook post by Kitahara and rebutted Ms. Ahn.

The second piece is by Kim Puja, a Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Kim warns that Japanese "liberal" intellectuals have been blinded to the "new" revisionism of Park Yuha, and explains why she sees Comfort Women of the Empire as a problematic work. She refutes Park's argument that the young girls were a minority and the exception among Korean "comfort women", emphasizing that Park erases the structural relationship between colonisers and colonised by (almost) equating Japanese and Korean "comfort women". Kim insists that we need to keep our eyes on the "system" based on gender and racial discrimination and not be distracted by occasional personal relationships. Referring to the comment by Hata Ikuhiko (a major figure in historical revisionism in Japan) that Park has a similar view to his own, Kim warns Japanese "liberal" intellectuals who 'lionise' Park that their stance is contradictory.
The Korean court cases over Comfort Women of the Empire are ongoing, and the two texts provided here in translation are part of the long-standing debate over the continuing "comfort women" issue. One thing is clear in this complex discourse: Despite the Japan-Korea agreement the intensely politicised "comfort women" issue is not going to be "finally and irrevocaby resolved" any time soon.

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