Statue of a Korean Girl Causes Meltdown at Aichi Triennale

by Kaori Shoji

It’s 35 degrees Celsius in Nagoya City and the mercury is expected to rise even further. Maybe the recent incident at the Aichi Triennale has something to do with it – the heat feels merciless and suffocating, much like the protest calls that continue to plague an otherwise celebratory art event.

Whether in the state of California or on the prefecure of Aichi, Japan, statues of comfort women, raise the ire of certain Japanese males who would like to sweep the past under the chair.

For those not in the know, here’s a rough sketch of what happened: On August 1, the Aichi Triennale kicked off. Directed by celebrity artist Daisuke Tsuda, the Triennale aimed to close the gender gap and encourage increased participation from women artists and feminist themes. One of the main exhibits, “The Non-Freedom of Expression – What Happens Later,” caused a huge stir. Created by a Korean sculptor couple (whose identities have not been revealed in mainstream media), the centerpiece is a statue of a young Korean girl. The description says she is a comfort woman, forcibly taken from her home by the Japanese military during WWII.

On August 2, the Triennale offices are flooded with calls of protests and outrage, including one from Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura, who it was said, sputtered with anger all over his phone screen, and then followed that up with a written statement. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also phoned in his appearance, expressing concerns that a government funded art event was showcasing a statue loaded with anti-government sentiments – is this right? There were more than a few death threats, many of which expressed intentions to replay the recent Kyoto Animation arson incident that killed 35 people.

On August 3, Daisuke Tsuda holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the exhibit. A controversial firestorm erupts across the archipelago.

It feels like the Japanese will never see eye-to-eye on the comfort women issue with their neighbors on the peninsula. On the list of old wounds that Japan would prefer to forget, or failing memory lapse, ignore completely – the sexual slaves known as “ianfu” or comfort women” to the western world, occupies first place. There’s something about this chunk of history that grates on Japanese male nerves, for it’s usually the men: politicians, commentators, academics and the rotund salariman sitting next to me on the subway – that get incoherent with indignation at the mere mention of the term. Last summer, I happened to be at an informal gathering when the subject came up. We were standing around a small table of drinks, and as soon as the word “ianfu” was uttered, the women scattered like sparrows and the men launched into a tirade that amounted to: “Of course there were comfort women in wartime. What else were they expecting? We were at war!”

Infuriatingly, the Japanese term for “comfort women”  (慰安婦・ianfu) is comprised of the kanji characters ‘ian’ which means to console and heal, and ‘fu’ which means female. ‘Ian” is still in circulation, most often in terms like ‘ianryokou,’ which refers to annual trips that many corporations dole out to their employees, ostensibly to let them relax and have a good time. Back in the mid-Heisei era, it was still quite common for these consolation trips to include geisha attendance and jaunts to strip bars, for the benefit of their male employees. In some companies, it was the norm for executives to invite prostitutes to their hotel rooms, and put it on their company tabs. For many, many Japanese men, a woman’s value is measured by how well she consoles and heals their tired nerves. One of the highest praises that can be bestowed on a woman, remains: ‘iyasareru’ (癒やされる)meaning, “you heal me.” When the outside world (in this case South Korea) dares to put a dent in that beautiful, traditional, man-woman relationship (i.e., the brave male being healed by a willing sexual slave, regardless of nationality) which Japanese men apparently see as their birthright, it probably feels like a punch in the face. Nagoya mayor Kawamura said as much when he wrote in his statement: “The collective Japanese heart has been trampled to bits.”

Awww, what a shame.

But the incident at the Aichi Triennale shows that though their hearts are trampled, Japanese men are capable of pushing back, albeit over their smartphones. At the press conference, Triennale director Daisuke Tsuda stressed that the cancellation wasn’t due to Mayor Kawamura, or the Chief Cabinet Secretary, or anything political. “It was because of the phone calls,” he said. “The office lines were jammed with protest calls and there simply weren’t enough staff to deal with them. Everyone was working overtime anyway, and I could not, in good conscience, ask these people to deal with angry callers on top of their already considerable workloads.”

Tsuda went on to say that the decision was “heartrending” because “this will create a precedent of being able to crush work of art with anonymous phone calls.”

And now that the statue has been taken away, we have yet to assess the repercussions. As the dust settles, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party members are getting their act together to say – altogether now, boys! – that threats and violence are BAD. Freedom of expression is GOOD.

Now that we’re clear on that matter, who’s ready to address the problem of comfort women?

Kono Makes A Discomforting Statement on The Comfort Women And Japan Diplomacy

Yohei Kono, the former speaker for the House of Representatives, spoke at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club last week, and pointed out that the comfort women issue (sex slaves of the Japanese troops in WWII) was not simply about Korea. Despite being one of the only Senior LDP former cabinet members to never have served as Prime Minister, he is known for the Kono Statement, which acknowledged that the comfort women (foreign and Japanese females who often served as sex slaves to the Japanese army) existed and that the Japanese Imperial Army may or may not have been involved. He served as foreign minister under Big Shintaro Abe, father of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others for over 1,100 days, making him the fourth longest-serving postwar foreign minister. He came to speak on how the forcefully passed security bills are unconstitutional, but in the end also had some very relevant things to say about Japan’s failure to reconcile with the past and recognize its war crimes. Plus he gave the LDP and Little Abe a lesson in what is proper diplomacy.

Yohei Kono, former Foreign Minister of Japan, sets the record straight on comfort women, security bills, and Japan's diplomacy
Yohei Kono, former Foreign Minister of Japan, sets the record straight on comfort women, security bills, and Japan’s diplomacy. Click the picture for the full press conference.

He was there principally to discuss the recent security legislation and how its passage had circumvented checks and balances and that the new law itself was unconstitutional.

At the beginning of the press conference he was asked his thoughts about China’s submission of documents to UNESCO on the  The Nanking Massacre. He noted that it is definitely an established fact. “The question is how many people were killed—that’s not clear.  The UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ system is opaque. There should be better grounds for submission. To deny the massacre took place is undeniable, but we need accurate numbers and make sure that it’s an objective historical record.” He put in a final jab by noting, “The movement by the LDP to to stop sending money to UNESCO because they accepted the documents is embarrassing. It’s like the previous threats to pressure Japanese firms not to advertise with newspapers or magazines critical of the establishment.”
Here are some highlights of the press conference:

Q:*As a foreign minister, one of the problems that Japan has with neighboring countries, is it has never seems to have reconciled with their past history of oppression and terrible things through out the colonial wars. We know from the writings of Prime Minister Nakasone and the head of the Fujisake Group Shikanai Haruo that the comfort women system wasn’t just a Korean problem, it existed in Indonesia, it existed in other places that Japan was ruling, that there has never been a comprehensive study of the comfort women system across all of Asia. Would Japan benefit from doing a cooperative study with all the countries it used to colonize and look at this problem one more time and issue a report and if so, how would that best be done?

 K:*The comfort women existed through very wide area through out all of Asia, and this is something which I, myself do acknowledge. We have seen, for example in the case of the Netherlands, who conducted various independent studies into this issue and even went so far as to have court cases and also judgements in relation to this. Dutch foreign ministry has also made official announcements in regard to the existance or to the facts about the comfort women history. So of course the situation in each country and as it was occurring in each country at the time is different than the situation now. We do need to question about how such collaboration might actually be possible how this could really be done, but at the very least what can be said is that Japan should be treating these former comfort women who went through such cruel difficult situations in a more sincere way. Of course this is the role on a state to state level which should be done but also on a human to human level. This is necessary as well. We need to have much more value or sincerity being put into how the comfort women are being treated. As you say, a large scale or comprehensive regional study is perhaps one method. I’m not sure how this would be able to be implemented but this is a very important suggestion. How or what kind of steps could be taken to move forward in this, however is something that i can not comment on today.

Q:*In regards to the security legislation, particularly making the use of the right to collective self defence I would like to ask if you really believe that there is majority support of this within the LDP, and given whether there is a majority or not looking at the various exceptions, other than some exceptions such as Mr Murakami , we don’t really hear of other opinions from within the LDP. Not only technical issues such as the electro system or political funding and so on, but I would like to ask your opinion of this overall all LDP situation. We also see the situation of the media, for example, questions at the press club or press conferences from external reporters or freelancers are not being allowed. Also, despite our invitations from the FCCJ, the LDP is not coming here to present, which is quite different from your time in the LDP. I would like to ask your view about these fundamental changes in the party.
Kono: *There are many different reasons for this but there is one in particular which I would like to discuss, and this is indeed the single seat constituency system. I was also personally involved in the creation of this system, so this is something in which I have considered very much since then and actually have some concerns and am wondering how that has contributed to the difficult situation now. If we compare it to before for example, now that we have the case where only one Diet member is selected to represent an entire constituency, where as before there were 2 or 3 representatives coming from each of the localities, the districts as well. In the case beforehand we would see for example one person selected for their agricultural expertise, one for their economic expertise, one for welfare expertise, so people could select based upon the various different policies and different aspects in expertise of the people running in the election. There was more choice available before, however now in these single seat elections, this means that only one person can be selected to represent the people from there. This means that while there may be various different policies , peoples choices are being limited to only choosing based on the official party policies rather than individual polices of the person and their different expertise, which means there are less choice for the voters in the elections and for their representation.
*Translations are approximate rather than literal and based on the on the spot English translation. The Japanese differs from the official translation at points.

 

 

Viva la Révolucion? The Japanese Communist Party: Still Red And Not Dead

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(Tokyo) – By Douglas Miller*

Communism as an ideology would appear to be fading out of our world. Most of the Cold War revolutionaries have died off, and China, Vietnam, and even Burma are becoming market economies. The communists are still going strong, however, here in Japan. Although the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) has dwindled in political stature since its heyday in the 1980s, the latest numbers show that there still are 320,000 JCP party members, as well as 1,300,000 subscribers to the party-run (しんぶん赤旗)Akahata newspaper. When you tally the Sunday and daily editions, the number is close to 1.5 million subscribers.

Think about it: over three hundred thousand registered party members and over a million subscribers to their newspaper. These numbers are staggering if one takes into account that these numbers are those of communist sympathizers. Well, that may not be exactly true. The name of the party is indeed the Japanese Communist Party. But the policies, far from being communist, are center-right social democrat. The American Japanologist and one-time ambassador to Japan E. O. Reischauer stated in his book Japan in Reischauer’s Eyes (ライシャワーの見た日本) (1968) that the JCP was not to be equated with the Soviets or the Chinese.

The JCP is not moving towards any revolution of the kind that we would perceive to be a necessary component of any communist movement. Rather, its goal is to become the majority party in Japan’s national parliament. If the JCP were to call for violent revolution and for the abolishment of multiparty systems and of capitalism itself, few of its hundreds of thousands of members would be supportive.

What the JCP stands for are noble causes that resonate with the Japanese people: (i) the abrogation of the US-Japan Security Treaty, (ii) economic sovereignty, (iii) correct historical understanding and subsequent necessary apologies to victims of Japanese aggression in World War II (iv) an end to nuclear power.  The US-Japan Security Treaty imposes an especially heavy burden on Okinawa, where the majority of the US military bases are located. The JCP has always been a strong supporter of Okinawan voices, together protesting and working toward getting rid of the bases altogether.

The JCP has also been sensitive to the plight of small enterprises that are getting run out of business by multinational corporations that thrive on globalization. The protection of economic sovereignty is not necessarily a complete denial of globalization but, rather, a plea for “democratic rules that protect the lives and basic rights of the people.” The JCP accepts capitalism as a workable system and is not against it in principle.

 

A problem with history

Questions of historical correctness have proved more difficult for the JCP to finesse. Japan has adopted a highly revisionist interpretation of what occurred during the years leading up to World War II and during the war. There are two main issues of contention regarding historical correctness: “comfort women” and territorial disputes. The Japanese military was partially involved with the rounding up of large numbers of females in occupied territories to serve its troops as so-called “comfort women”, a euphemism for prostitutes. Many of these women were essentially sex slaves, forced to work and treated inhumanely, without freedom to choose their customers or quit their jobs. Internationally accepted accounts of the war years treat that practice as historical fact. But conservative Japanese politicians, often from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have denied that forced prostitution occurred and have insisted that any women who served the troops with sexual favors did so of their own volition. These comments routinely cause understandable uproar in China, the Koreas, and other states that were victimized by the Japanese.

The JCP acknowledges what the Japanese forces did during the war and has been working to encourage government accountability: acknowledge the existence of the comfort women, make a formal apology, and pay reparations to those who are still alive. Recently  a South Korean diplomat met with JCP chairman Kazuo Shii to discuss the comfort women issue and other issues that the JCP has addressed. The diplomat expressed respect for the JCP’s stance on historical correctness and voiced high expectations for their policies. The JCP exhibits a mindboggling inconsistency, however, in regard to the very commitment to historical accountability lauded by the Korean diplomat. Witness its incomprehensible stance in regard to territorial disputes.

Japan currently has one official territorial dispute: a disagreement with Russia about four islands near Hokkaido—known to the Japanese as the Northern Territories and to the Russians as the Southern Kuril Islands—seized by Russia in the waning days of World War II. It also has two unofficial territorial disputes of note. One pertains to the Liancourt Rocks (claimed by Japan as Takeshima and by South Korea as Dokdo), a group of tiny islets in the Sea of Japan (the “East Sea” to Koreans). The other dispute pertains to a group of islets in the East China Sea claimed by Japan as Senkaku and by China as Daioyutai.

The JCP—the self-styled voice of historical accountability, the party lauded by the South Korean diplomat for its historical correctness—has parroted the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and other factions in asserting that all three of the disputed territories belong “indisputably” to Japan. Official party literature presents dubious historical data in support of the claim that these islands have long been under Japanese control and that the occupation of any of the islands by non-Japanese, as in the case of Takeshima/Dokdo and the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils are unjust. The sight of the JCP voicing the questionable history concocted by the conservative establishment is indisputably bizarre.

A knack for local politics

Incoherence in the national political arena does not seem to be undermining the JCP’s standing in prefectural and municipal governments. At the national Diet, the JCP lost yet another seat in the lower house last year, and its presence there has dwindled to a measly eight seats, a 45-year low. The party remains strong, however, in local politics.

Typical of the JCP’s loyal members is one who described his reasons for joining the party as follows, “The JCP was the only party that never compromised its principles, that never succumbed to political expediency.” The JCP is the last resort, adds the party member for a lot of people who can’t get help elsewhere for problems with things like workplace disputes and unmanageable debt. “When the police can’t help and the banks can’t help, you go to the Japanese Communist Party.”

The JCP has won government recognition of workplace injuries and fatalities, and its legal assistance has helped secure compensation for workers and their families in several instances of such accidents. Alone among Japan’s political parties, the JCP openly goes head to head with multinational corporations, such as Toyota, Sony and Mazda, to protect the rights of workers and their families. This principled support of ordinary people is a reason that the JCP has several long-serving public officials in local government.

One long-standing public official from the JCP was Kenzo Yamada, the mayor of Nanko town, Hyogo Prefecture, (1980 to 2005.) Yamada was reelected six times and served until Nanko town and three other towns merged to become the present municipality of Sayo town. His policies for promoting social welfare in the town generated tangible benefits. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, for example, recognized the town for its large percentage of over-80 residents who still had at least 20 of their original teeth.

Another long-standing public official from the JCP was Yutaka Yano, the mayor of Komae City in Tokyo, (1996 to 2012). Prior to his election as mayor, he had been a city councilman for 21 years. He replaced Sanyu Ishii, whose tenure had been riddled with accusations of corruption and of chronic gambling trips to South Korea. Ishii unexpectedly resigned on June 12, 1996, and Yano won the subsequent special election.

Yamada and Yano exemplify the JCP’s capacity for winning fair democratic elections. Support for the JCP’s national agenda may be wavering, but the party remains highly relevant in local constituencies all across Japan.

*The Japan Subculture Research Center does not support any one political party or political faction in Japan. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


Silence Broken: The Plight Of The Comfort Women

Former Comfort Women Await Justice 

Adair K. FincherSeptember 25, 2008

 (This is a well-researched article about the women who were forced to work as sexual slaves by the Japanese Army during the second world war. Revisionist Japanese historians would like to deny it ever happened but that does not mean that it didn’t.)

A typical winter scene outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea: Three elderly Korean women, too old and too weak to stand, sit with gloved hands frantically waving butterfly-shaped signs written in Korean: “Apologize to us on your knees.” The air is cold. They and their supporters—nuns, the elderly, the young, and the non-Korean—are bundled in heavy winter coats and woolen caps, noses peeking out over tightly wound scarves. A cane sticks out from below the banner draped across the elderly women’s knees. In Japanese, Korean, and English the banner reads, “Wednesday Demonstration to Solve the Japanese Military Comfort Women Issue.”

Continue reading Silence Broken: The Plight Of The Comfort Women