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Giving the Asahi Shinbun Something to Fear

Mizushima Asahi

Satoru Mizushima (left) street speech calling for boycott of Asahi Shinbun (SNA)

By Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — The history of Japanese war crimes committed during the Pacific War, and who should take responsibility for them, is a very involved one. It took numerous expert historians and years of research to come to the conclusion that Japan was guilty of abducting Korean and Chinese women to use them as prostitutes for the Japanese Imperial Army: the so-called comfort women issue. This conclusion led to a much debated apology called the Kono Statement, issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on August 4, 1993.

Some people did not recognize the Kono Statement is a real apology, saying that it merely acknowledged the issue. Others, mostly rightwing groups, denounced it as a farce because of their firm belief that Japan has nothing to apologize for in the first place. For them, the Kono Statement was just ammunition “anti-Japanese propaganda.”

Between 1982 and midway through the 1990s, the Asahi Shinbun published a number of articles about the comfort women issue, sometimes citing ex-soldier named Seiji Yoshida as a main source. After Yoshida’s passing in 2000, it became clear that his testimony was not credible, forcing the Asahi Shinbun‘s much belated official apology and retractions last August.

Many rightwing revisionist groups contend that the retracted articles have irreversibly damaged Japan’s overseas reputation. A group of intellectuals led by Hideaki Kase, a former university professor, and Ganbare Nippon leader Satoru Mizushima have launched a lawsuit against the newspaper.

At a press conference on the matter at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, both Kase and Mizushima were at pains to insist that they are not historical revisionists, but only seekers and spreaders of factual knowledge. Backed by an unprecedented 24,000+ plaintiffs, they assert that they aim to “tell the real truth of Japan’s wartime conduct.” They also demand 10,000 yen per plaintiff as compensation for “suffering emotional damage” as a result of the tarnishing of their nation’s honor.

In the narrative of the revisionists, winning the lawsuit would mean that the popular perception of the comfort women issue would be corrected. They blame the Asahi Shinbun for creating the political climate that eventually gave birth to the Kono Statement.

On the contrary, winning the lawsuit would more likely lead to foreign governments and media to speculate about constraints on freedom of press in Japan and the nation’s will to deal honestly with its wartime legacy.

Indeed, Hideaki Kase himself indicated at the press conference that giving the Asahi Shinbun something to fear was precisely one of the plaintiffs’ objectives.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.