Japanese Ad Rekindles Comfort Women Controversy

The Comfort Women Memorial in New Jersey has triggered fresh tensions between Japanese and Koreans. On Oct. 24, a Korean civic group said that the monument was “defiled with a stake.” More recently, a Japanese group published an ad in the Star Ledger, in which they dismissed the “Do You Remember?” ad created by two Koreans to bring awareness to the plight of comfort women. An article from Korea Daily – originally from its parent publication, Joong-ang Ilbo – is translated below.

The “objection advertisement” done by a Japanese group in response to the “Do you remember?” ad put together by Koreans was published in New Jersey’s Star Leger. (Image via Joong-ang Ilbo)

A Japanese rebuttal to the “Do You Remember?” advertisement ran in the Star Ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey, on Nov. 4.

Kyung-duk Seo, a public relations expert and professor, and singer Janghoon Kim had created the “Do You Remember?” ad, which described the brutality of the Japanese army in sexually enslaving more than 200,000 Korean women during World War II. The ad was printed in the New York Times and on a billboard in Times Square. To counter this message, right-wing Japanese extremists put together an “objection advertisement” entitled, “Yes, we remember the facts.”

The Japanese advertisement argues that comfort women were voluntary prostitutes and that the Japanese government cracked down on some of the illegal civilian brokers. It was made by the Committee for Historical Facts and signed by the group’s president, Shigeharu Aoyama, journalist Yoshiko Sakurai, professor Nobugasu Fujioka, composer Koichi Sugiyama, journalist Kohyu Nishimura. Members include political commentators, TV producers, composers and professors.

The rebuttal ad claims three things. First, it says that it was civilian brokers that recruited the comfort women, and that in fact, the Japanese army banned this activity. As evidence, the ad pointed to Japan’s Army memorandum 2197, which was issued on March 4, 1938.

Second, the ad cited an article published on Aug. 31, 1939 in the Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo, entitled “Unscrupulous Brokers Run Rampant – Abduction of Rural Women and Girls.” It added that brokers who kidnapped women and made them into sex slaves were arrested by police. The advertisement argues, “Korea… was under the Japanese jurisdiction at the time. This offers proof that the Japanese government dealt severely with inhumane crimes against women.

Lastly, the advertisement insists that Korean comfort women were not sex slaves. It says that legal prostitutes always existed in war. They were well treated and in fact, many of the women earned incomes far in excess of what were paid to field officers and even generals. It’s really sad that many women were made to suffer severe hardship during the World War II, but “it is a gross and deliberate distortion of reality to contend that the Japanese army was guilty of “coercing young women into sexual slavery” in “one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century…”

Dongchan Kim, the president of Korean American Civic Empowerment, which encourages civic participation among the community, said, “The shamelessness of the Japanese people who published the advertisement in an American newspaper is despicable. They’re denying history for their own sake. It’s very concerning that Japan is still avoiding the worldwide issue of human rights, and distorting history.”

Jaewon Yoo, of Palisades Park, N.J., where many Koreans live, said, “I’m furious that I live in the same world as people who want to use lies to hide historical facts. But before we criticize their insanity, the Korean-American community should work together to let people know the truth.”

The far right-wing Japanese group chose the Star Ledger, rather than a nationally-known media outlet, because it has a lot of readers in northern New Jersey’s Bergen County, where the Comfort Women Memorial is located. Furthermore, had the advertisement been published in a national newspaper, the people behind it worried that Americans who did not know about comfort women would find out about the issue.