JIN-403 -- No Comfort From the US Lower House

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
JAPAN INC NEWSLETTER
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 403
Wednesday February 21, 2007 TOKYO

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CONTENTS:
@@ VIEWPOINT: No Comfort From the US Lower House

Got up this morning and was struck by a headline in the
paper: 'Diet Adopts Resolution Calling for US Apology
for Enslavement of Blacks.' I nearly spilled my coffee.
Nevertheless, I plunged into the article: 'On February
20 the Diet adopted a resolution calling for the US
President to make an official apology to America's
35 million blacks for violation of their ancestors'
human rights by the system of slavery.'

No, I didn't read such an article; it does not exist. And
the person who spilled his morning coffee was perhaps
Foreign Minister Taro Aso when he read of the submission in
the U.S. House of Representatives of a resolution
condemning Japan for sexual enslavement of women
during World War II. Commented Aso, 'It is extremely
regrettable and definitely not based on facts.'

And inconvenient. Shinzo Abe is scheduled to make
his first visit as Prime Minister to Washington at the end
of April. He certainly doesn't want the issue of the 'comfort
women,' as the prostitutes for Imperial Army troops'
gratification are euphemistically know, to shadow him
during his US debut.

Just what are the facts? Well, they are in dispute. The Abe
Administration supports the statement issued in 1993 by
Yohei Kono, then Chief Cabinet Secretary, which
acknowledged and apologized for the Imperial Army's
sexual enslavement of Asian women. Subsequently, in 1995,
the government established the Asian Women's Fund from 'an
acute sense of moral responsibility for those made 'comfort
women.''

Some lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling
conservative party, are working to disavow the Kono
statement, having established the 'Group of Lawmakers for
Considering Japan's Prospects and History Education,'
chaired by Nariaki Nakayama, the Minister of Education and
Science in the second Koizumi cabinet. The group is due to
propose a revision of the Kono statement as early as this
month. The more conservative LDP lawmakers have been
dissatisfied with Abe's support of the Kono statement.

In dispute is not the fact that Asian women provided sex
for Japanese soldiers, but the backdrop of their arrival
in the brothels and the nature of government involvement.
Foreign Minister Taro, the lawmaker group, 'Yomiuri
Shimbun' editorialists and other elements of the conservative
spectrum contend that the women were not rounded up by
the Japanese government but rather employed by private
brothel owners.

The Japanese blogosphere is awash in theories explaining
the submission of a resolution seemingly irrelevant to the
the US in 2007. Prominent is the theory that the resolution
is the fruit of Chinese and Korean efforts to whip up
anti-Japanese sentiment. Bloggers exorcise the Abe
Administration for not correcting what they view as
a widespread l calumny of Japan based on faulty history.

The administration may be listening. The Japanese Embassy in
Washington issued a statement: '[The resolution] includes
inappropriate comments such as a renewed call for
actions Japan has already taken.' Meanwhile, the government
dispatched to the US on February 19 Hiroshige Seko,
assistant to the prime minister, to explain Japanese policy to
the American media and to meet with relevant lawmakers to
explore the background of the resolution.

The Japanese are, admittedly, inept propagandists, and
they are now paying the price for not having earlier reminded
the world of amends they've made for the sins of war.

The resolution now before the House of Representatives
reminds me of a visit to Japan by Jesse Jackson many years
ago. The civil rights leader had barely unbuckled his seatbelt
when he was saying free the 'burakumin,' a subject
of historical and political complexity not amenable to sound
bytes or briefing papers.

The Americans have a bad habit of letting their admirable
democratic impulses lead them into areas of which they are
woefully ignorant. So they are caught in the crosshairs of
sectarian militants in the Middle East and debating a
resolution that can only alienate their closest ally in Asia.

The Japanese are bad publicists, but leastwise they do no
harm from ignorance. You won't be reading about their
lawmakers asking President Bush to apologize to the sons
and daughters of slaves.

-- Burritt Sabin
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