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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:
Courtesy of Shingetsu News Agency, Dec 1, 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
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.
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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