In 1993, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono made the most full-throated admission and apology acknowledging that Japan had coerced women across Asia into being sex slaves—euphemistically referred to as “Comfort Women”—for the Japanese military during the Pacific War. More recently, however, conservative politicians such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura have engaged in a campaign that is less about carving out a path toward reconciliation than to overwrite memories of an unsavory past.
Only days after Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa saw himself forced to resign over allegations of campaign funding irregularities, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet faces renewed challenges with another senior minister suffering similar allegations, as well as a concern about the role of government subsidy receiving firms that has touched even the prime minister and chief cabinet secretary themselves.
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.
Since we are based in Tokyo and not in Washington DC, we may not be the best source available for understanding US government policy, even its policy toward Japan and Asia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration is taking an unexpectedly cool posture toward Shinzo Abe and his band, and that this is having a major political effect here as well. It is also obvious that the Obama policy toward Japan is radically different than what US policy was a decade ago under George W. Bush.