Japan Times officially sanitizes WWII “comfort women” and “forced laborers”. Pressure on my JT Just Be Cause column too.

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Hi Blog.  The Japan Times, under new ownership since 2017, has just released information about their new wording policy, in line with tendencies in other right-leaning Japanese media towards revising Japan’s contentious history through revisionist terminology.  Make sure you read down to my comment for a little plot thickening:

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Courtesy of Shingetsu News Agency, Dec 1, 2018:


(Photo courtesy DM, from The Japan Times physical copy pg 2, Nov. 30, 2018.)

‘Comfort women’: anger as Japan paper alters description of WWII terms
Change prompts concern that country’s media is trying to rewrite wartime history under rightwing pressure
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Guardian, Fri 30 Nov 2018 (excerpt), courtesy of the author
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/30/japanese-paper-sparks-anger-as-it-ditches-ww2-forced-labour-term

Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper has sparked anger among staff and readers after revising its description of wartime sex slaves and forced labourers from the Korean peninsula.

In a decision that critics said aligned it with the conservative agenda of the prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the Japan Times said it had used terms “that could have been potentially misleading” when reporting on the contentious subjects.

It was the latest media row about how to define notorious parts of the country’s wartime record.

The Japan Times, which marked its 120th anniversary last year, said in an editor’s note in Friday’s edition that it would ditch the commonly used term “forced labour” to describe Koreans who were made to work in Japanese mines and factories during its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

South Korea says there were nearly 150,000 victims of wartime forced labour, 5,000 of whom are alive.

The Japan Times said: “The term ‘forced labour’ has been used to refer to labourers who were recruited before and during world war two to work for Japanese companies. However, because the conditions they worked under or how these workers were recruited varied, we will henceforth refer to them as ‘wartime labourers.’”

The explanation appeared at the foot of an article about the South Korean supreme court’s decision this week to order Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate 10 former forced labourers. The ruling, and a similar decision last month, have soured ties between Tokyo and Seoul, with Japan’s foreign minister, Tarō Kōno, calling them “totally unacceptable”.

The Japan Times, whose motto is ‘all the news without fear or favour,’ said it would also alter its description of the comfort women – a euphemism for tens of thousands of girls and women, mainly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war.

The newspaper noted that it had previously described the victims as “women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during world war two”.

But it added: “Because the experiences of comfort women in different areas throughout the course of the war varied widely, from today, we will refer to ‘comfort women’ as ‘women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers’.”

Reporters and editors at the paper’s Tokyo headquarters greeted the decision with a mixture of anger and consternation. “People are pretty angry about the change and the fact that we were not consulted,” a Japan Times employee told the Guardian.

The revision has added to concern that sections of the media are bowing to pressure from rightwing politicians and activists to rewrite Japan’s wartime history and portray its actions on the Asian mainland in a more favourable light.

Rest of the article at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/30/japanese-paper-sparks-anger-as-it-ditches-ww2-forced-labour-term

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COMMENT:  Now for that plot thickening:  I have been writing for the Japan Times Community Page since 2002, and under their Just Be Cause column since 2008.  I felt little editorial interference in my writing until 2017, when I found my opinions facing increased demands for substantiation (which I could provide, of course — sometimes by pointing at old JT columns that had passed editorial muster before).  But there was a decided editorial chill in the air.

Now with my ninth annual Top Ten Japan Human Rights Issues of the year as they affected NJ residents of Japan approaching, my new editor has told me to revamp my column format so that it’s not a Top Ten anymore.  Quote from a recent email dated Nov. 24, 2018:

“I wonder if it might read better to take it out of the Top 10 format and write in detail on certain cases. I would like to see something along the lines of: What did Japan do right this year, What has the potential to move forward next year, and Which area is cause for concern.” 

That’s quite a different tack.  And it seems symptomatic of a “let’s focus on the good stuff”, then add more likely “future good stuff”, and maybe mention the, er, “causes for concern” as an afterthought.

I think I’ll write up a Top Ten as usual and submit it to see what happens.  These aren’t the “good news” pages anyway, as writing about human rights is generally a dismal science (because human rights issues tend to focus on what people are doing wrong to each other, rather than what they should have been doing right in the first place).  Moreover this is not something we newspaper columnists have to be diplomatic about (i.e., those “causes for concern”) — that’s something United Nations Special Rapporteurs do when cajoling governments to be nice to people (yet even they can be pretty harsh in their criticism at times, and rightly so).

Anyway, it’s sad that the JT, the last bastion of independent mainstream journalism in English in Japan, has knuckled under — the death of honest-history-based journalism due to PM Abe’s revisionist government pressure.  I wonder what JT’s partner, the New York Times, would think of this development.  Dr. Debito Arudou

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22 comments on “Japan Times officially sanitizes WWII “comfort women” and “forced laborers”. Pressure on my JT Just Be Cause column too.

  • “What did Japan do right this year, What has the potential to move forward next year, and Which area is cause for concern.” ” Sounds like a SWOT analysis or a business plan. Is JT becoming NIkkei?
    Well, thats one way to avoid upsetting anyone and being non political. Just focus on the business news, and have a “democratic” discussion of better ways to make money.
    It works well in Mainland China.

    What did Japan get right this year? Errrrrrr…how about “Didnt go to war with China yet”?

    And with shares dropping with the Ghosn arrest, not even business seems to be going well…

    Perhaps you could write a “postmodern” top ten. Like an April fool joke, e.g. Things Japan did right “Arrest Carlos Ghosn” coz foreign crmie must be reduced.
    MIsnomer things like this.

    On the other hand, I dont want you to lose your JT gig.

    Reply
  • “conservative agenda of the prime minister,” REVISIONIST, more like. Lets look at the LDP name. Liberal Democratic Party. All three aspects are misnomers in any case, but perhaps they mean being “liberal” with “democracy”, ie liberal with their definition of the term.

    Reply
  • Not even Hello Kitty could be in the Top Ten “Good stuff” it seems
    https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Japan-Update/Hello-Kitty-maker-says-goodbye-to-profit-growth-for-fiscal-2017
    There must be something Japan is getting right, oh ok here it is. Clearly proving Japan’s rise in global irrelevance, akin to Swiss Cuckoo clock production.
    https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/japans-anime-industry-grows-record-177b-boosted-by-your-name-exports-1058463

    Reply
  • “my new editor has told me to revamp my column format so that it’s not a Top Ten anymore. Quote from a recent email dated Nov. 24, 2018:”

    “I wonder if it might read better to take it out of the Top 10 format and write in detail on certain cases. I would like to see something along the lines of: What did Japan do right this year, What has the potential to move forward next year, and Which area is cause for concern.”

    I wonder…

    I want…

    Well, if you are still wondering, why do you “want” something” that you are unsure about? Why don’t you stay in wonderland a little longer.

    Who is this person?

    Reply
  • “RE: your ‘I would like to see something along the lines of: What did [this particular government regime] do right this year, What has the potential to move forward next year, and Which area is cause for concern’ critical-article positive-spin request:

    OK new editor: yes I plan to include in my critique an action this particular government regime did right this year, and a positive action which might possibly move forward next year, and then as I have done for this newspaper since 2002 I will of course honestly critique without censorship or power-pressure from above the negative governmental actions which deserve criticizing: for example the grave human rights violations ‘area of concern’ about this particular government continuing once again this year to be in violation of the supreme law international treaty which this government signed yet refuses to obey, since this government refuses to outlaw the act of businesses committing Race-Based-Entry-Denial.

    I cannot hide (as I feel your request is quietly attempting to persuade me to do) the fact that this government is flagrantly patently in violation of the United Nations international Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (U.N. CERD) supreme law treaty, which the government of itself signed yet still refuses to actually obey: I have to share this fact with new readers that this government chose again this year to refuse to pass any legislation outlawing the act of Race-Based-Entry-Denial done by businesses to law-abiding would-be-customers who happen to appear to be a minority race or a ‘foreigner’ or an ‘outsider’.

    Of all the countries who signed the U.N. CERD Treaty, this is the only supposedly-first-world country which remains in violation of that treaty in 2018 by still allowing businesses to legally commit Race-Based-Entry-Denial.

    Sorry new editor, it’s possible there might be behind-the-scenes direct or indirect threats, blackmail, bribes, from governments or corporations or private individuals, or perhaps merely some strange personal “free pass for this government, let’s write positive fluff PR positive-spin propaganda commercial pieces to increase tourism” stance, behind your increasingly bold attempts to persuade and coerce newspaper writers like me to reduce the amount of sentences critical of the actions of this government’s human rights violations and this government’s international treaty violations, but as an honest journalist I cannot so easily submit to such coercion.

    I cannot with a clean conscience simply hide this government’s misdeeds by ‘spending 50% or 33% or even 20% of article space praising’ (as I feel you imply) ‘the positive recent actions and future possible positive actions’ of this U.N. treaty-violating rogue regime which is already being found by the international press to be one of the worst modern-day first-world deniers of freedom of the press.

    Sorry, I may not be perfect but I have relatively higher morals and journalistic integrity, so your secret request implying I should add a positive spin to my upcoming annual government critique leaves me no choice but to submit this public reply to ask journalists around the world:

    What would YOU do if, as an editorial writer and public commentator, you received such ‘be more positive about the government’s actions’ implied demand from power-holding higher-ups, about a government’s negative human-rights-violating international-treaty-violating actions?

    Would such an implied ‘request’ from above persuade you to add a positive spin to the government’s negative actions of continuing to violate the U.N. CERD treaty it signed?

    Should one instead take the risk of losing one’s main source of income by publicly exposing this governmental illegal action and publicly exposing this this power-based change-your-article pressure?

    If you discovered the country whose citizenship you voluntarily took refused to outlaw the act of Race-Based-Entry-Denial, would you agree to hide that governmental action for a little article money from a newspaper editor?

    Should I continue to take the road less traveled of honest full-disclosure for the internal satisfaction of moral integrity, or should I agree to this implied request from the new editor at the newspaper I work for to prioritize a little rent & food article money to hide this Race-Based-Entry-Denial U.N. CERD treaty violation from caring readers around the world?

    Seriously, fellow whistle-blowers and would-be-whistle-blowers of government illegalities around the world, what would YOU do?”

    #FreedomOfPress
    #BraveJournalistsHelp
    #RaceBasedEntryDenial
    #U.N.SignedTreatyViolation
    #IllegalGovernmentalAction
    #BlackCustomersDeniedEntry
    #ForeignerCustomersDeniedEntry
    #MinorityRaceCustomersDeniedEntry
    #RaceBasedEntryDenialLegallyAllowed

    Perhaps a reply like that might help bring light to this government’s treaty violation (namely it’s refusal to outlaw RaceBasedEntryDenial even in 2018) and might help bring light to this popular newspaper’s new editor’s implied (in my opinion) request which would (in my opinion) reduce your upcoming article’s ability to justly criticize the fact that this country has still not passed a Civil Rights Act to outlaw businesses committing RaceBasedEntryDenial.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Just my humble opinion, Japan Times has been going down hill since 2017. Writers critical of Abe regime or Japan’s right wing revisionism have been cut loose; Jeff Kingston, and the late Hugh Cortazzi (RIP).

    As for the JT attitude to the sex-slave issue, isn’t it always mind blowing that the right wing deniers overlook his many Japanese women were also press-ganged into sexual slavery? For example;

    https://japantoday.com/category/politics/feature-chief-of-comfort-women-museum-wants-japan-to-come-to-terms-with-past

    But this isn’t really about that, it’s all about Japan reacting to the new Korean attitude of punishing Japanese companies for wartime crimes, and Japan’s push-back IMHO. Except that Japan has only got one English language paper to push back with!

    If I were Dr. Debito, I’d stick to my guns, keep my ethics intact, sleep with a clear conscience by submitting what I saw as the truth.

    If the new editor wants to play make-believe revisionism, and wants to fire him for it, then he’s probably better off on his own, than endorsing and legitimizing a revolting editorial policy that will turn JT into an international laughing stock.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    On a related note, Suematsu out to be ashamed of herself if she is responsible for this turn of events (although, it’s a given that all right wing revisionists already are ashamed of themselves, hence the revisionism!).

    Doesn’t she know that Japanese woman had no human rights under Imperialism?

    Reply
    • But according to the Japanese media, Edo era Japanese women spent their time walking around enjoying the scenery while dressed spotlessly. That’s what I’m gathering from watching TV.

      Reply
      • Jim Di Griz says:

        Yeah, right!
        I know you’re kidding, but there’s a great book by Vlastos, Mirror of Modernity, that challenges various aspects of Japan’s ‘Edo era as ‘last, perfect Japan before gaijin’ myth’, as well as blowing the lid on all sorts of Meiji era invented traditions and social customs. Well worth a read.

        Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    BTW, notice how the Japanese term ‘慰安婦’, often translated directly into ‘comfort women’, which started life as an official Japanese euphemism intended to avoid and obfuscate the reality of these victims forced sexual servitude, is now so toxic in and of itself, that NHK rightwing revisionists can’t even stomach that revisionist line, and now use ‘so-called ‘comfort women”.
    The only people who ever used ‘comfort women’ as a term, and indeed invented the term, were the right wing revisionists themselves.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, this is interesting…

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/2018/12/06/announcements/message-executive-editor/

    It looks like a genuine attempt to be reasonable and open-minded, but the fact is, it’s a calculated attempt to obfuscate the issues further and discredit victims of japanese war crimes.

    These issues are widely known and reported for many years! JT editors don’t need ‘multiple discussions on the issue that commenced more than a year ago’. These issues have been investigated by actual experts already!

    And as for JT’s claim ‘We are currently engaged in further internal discussions to scrutinize and amend our language regarding these contentious issues.’, well, these issues are only contentious to right wing revisionists and apologists who deny Japanese war crimes in the face of all evidence to the contrary! Why does JT want to pander to them?

    JT’s presentation of this issue is disingenuous and legitimizes the very idea that there is even a debate to be had about ‘the truth’, which is itself a right wing tactic used to confuse the casual reader. JT ought to be ashamed of itself for becoming a willing tool of the right wing crazies.

    We know the truth!
    Japan forced NJ to be slave labor!
    Japan forced NJ to be sex slaves!

    No discussion, investigation, or deliberation needed! Facts already established!

    Reply
    • Loverilakkuma says:

      Hiroyasu Mizuno is a former editor at conservative magazine Nikkei BP. He also has close ties with Yoshito Hori, a founder of for-profit Japanese business school named Globis University. Just like Hori, a pro-Abe business pundit disgusting himself as a centrist, Mizuno pretends to be everyone’s favorite since he and Kambara-Suematsu took over the JT last June. They are wearing sheep’s clothes to make us believe that they are apart from radical extremist right.

      Reply
  • The Japan Times publishes straight up war-crime denials now.

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/12/12/commentary/japan-commentary/eight-decades-no-end-sight-nanjing-toll-row/

    Dr. Debito should walk away from this farce of a newspaper that has become a bad joke, in my humble opinion. After all, I’d hazard a guess that Dr. Debito’s JBC gets more clicks and page views that any other contributor. Why give the owners the benefit of all that advertising revenue, redirects and passing traffic on to their other ‘articles’?

    This kind of right-wing wishful thinking won’t win any hearts or minds in the English speaking world, and the paper will continue to become even more irrelevant for those seeking news on Japan (and there are precious few doing so as Abe’s Japan becomes increasingly irrelevant globally itself).
    After all, aside from pushing out NJ contributors critical of the Abe regime and Japanese right-wing in general, the modus operandi continues to be increased J-gov statements dressed as ‘reporting’ with no investigative journalism, fluff pieces about Japan’s ‘unique’ food, onsen, traditional whatever (really, does this kind of infotainment have a place in a serious newspaper?) and coverage of news in the US (which seems odd in a Japanese newspaper, but then the newspaper’s preoccupation with America reflects perfectly the right wing schizophrenic relationship with the US).

    Newspaper? Snooze-paper!

    Reply
    • To prove my point, just seconds ago, BBC World News finished it ‘Business Review’ segment this evening with a 30 second review of the headlines.
      Virgin Galactic about to launch the first manned space flight from the USA since the shuttle was grounded 7 years ago!
      AND from The Japan Times it showed this story;
      https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/12/11/business/tech/lawson-tests-fried-chicken-dispensing-robot-tokyo/

      And the only comment from the BBC?
      ‘These have been around for decades. They’re called microwaves.’

      Says it all really. Japan and JT are a laughing stock.

      Reply
      • I recommend the Mainichi Shimbun’s English translation for news on Japan. I haven’t checked carefully, but it seems when reading it like it’s Mainichi Shimbun articles translated from Japanese (so you’re less likely to be reading something “sanitized” for Western consumption like the Nikkei’s English language stuff).

        https://mainichi.jp/english/

        Reply
        • Don’t be so quick to give credit. I’ve read Mainichi, and it seems the more “contentious” subjects don’t make it over to the English version. For example, I submitted to debito.org a while back an article run by Mainichi which thoughtlessly “reported” on a police campaign to warn random passersby (not business owners) about illegally hiring foreign laborers. I’m still waiting for the campaign warning about illegally violating foreign laborers’ human rights and the like.

          This article, for some strange reason, never made it to the English version. I’ll let you infer why.

          Reply
    • Yes, the article really does take the side of the Japanese army. And lamely concludes, “Deng Xiaoping is reputed to have declared that the matter best be left for wiser generations to resolve. One suspects that despite the passing of more than 80 years, we may still be a generation or two from a mutually acceptable accounting of the Nanjing controversy as well.”

      Deng Xiaoping was talking about uninhabited rocks, not the slaughter of thousands of innocents (no need to argue about the exact figures).

      Reply

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