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Kono Statement on “military comfort women” continues to cast a baleful influence over school textbooks

Some new junior high school textbooks screened for use in April have revived the description “military comfort women,” a post-war term whose use is associated with the argument that the women were “forcefully taken.” At the root of this argument is a 1993 statement made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledging the women were recruited by force. The statement has since been used to justify erecting sculptures of comfort women overseas and continues to damage Japan’s reputation. 

 

The description “military comfort women” is found in junior high school history textbooks published by Yamakawa Shuppan, which passed the screening process in March last year. According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, screeners approved high school history textbooks (rekishi sogo: integrated history) published by Shimizu Shoin and Jikkyo Shuppan that included the description “so-called ‘military comfort women’.” These textbooks were screened in March this year for use in 2022 and beyond. 

 

Screeners base their comments on the consensus within the government as expressed in Cabinet decisions and Supreme Court rulings. The Kono Statement is regarded as reflecting a government consensus and serves as the basis for including the term “military comfort women” in textbooks. An official at the Education Ministry said it is difficult to take issue with the inclusion of the term. 

 

“The government intends to continue upholding the statement of the chief cabinet secretary [Kono]. The Kono Statement still holds,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference on March 31. 

 

The Kono Statement was disputed in the past. In 2007, the Cabinet of the first administration of Shinzo Abe approved a written response to the Diet that denied the women were “forcefully taken.” In 2014, during the second Abe administration, an expert panel reported that there was no evidence to corroborate the Kono Statement’s assertion of the coercion of women, and it was revised from the original in response to a request from South Korea. However, the statement has not been withdrawn to this day. “We denied the assumption of coercion but maintained the statement, because its revision would have provoked strong reactions from South Korea and the U.S.,” a government official explained. 

 

“In recent years in the government, the description ‘comfort women’ is in general use [instead of ‘military comfort women’],” Kato said. An official at the textbook division of the Education Ministry reiterated that if the government upholds the Kono Statement, the term “military comfort women” cannot be redacted.  

 

South Korea has been manipulating foreign public opinion based on the Kono Statement. The Japanese government needs to take concrete steps to stop such attempts, through, for example, a Cabinet decision to reject the expression “military comfort women” created after the war. 

 

Developments regarding the “Kono Statement” in the government 

August 1993  

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issues a statement that admits the coercive nature of the recruitment of comfort women based on a government investigation. 

March 1997 

Then-Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara testifies that there was no documentary evidence of coercion. 

October 2006 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says during Diet interpellation that he upholds the Kono Statement. 

March 2007 

The Cabinet approves a Diet response that denies comfort women were taken by force. 

March 2014 

The Cabinet approves PM Abe’s response to the Diet saying he will not review the Kono Statement. 

December 2015 

Japan and South Korea confirm the “final and irrevocable resolution” of the comfort women issue. 

February 2021 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tells the Diet that his administration also upholds the Kono Statement. 

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