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Japan's former comfort women demand justice

women protesting April 17, 1997
Web posted at: 5:50 p.m. EDT (2150 GMT)

From Correspondent May Lee

HONG KONG (CNN) -- From the streets of Seoul to the streets of Manila, and even in the heart of Tokyo, Asian women are angrily demanding justice for crimes committed against them 50 years ago. They say they were taken by invading Japanese soldiers during World War II and made the sexual slaves of Japan's Imperial Army.

In 1993, Japan officially admitted that thousands of women were forced to be prostitutes, or "comfort women" during World War II. The government apologized for the war crimes, and vowed to include the comfort women issue in new junior high school textbooks for the first time.

The new books came out in April, to the dismay of nationalists like Nobukatsu Fujioka, a man who says all women who say they were sex slaves are liars.


Fujioka is leading the Society for New History Textbooks, a group pushing to abolish any mention of comfort women and other war crimes in schoolbooks.

"The comfort women issue is basically a massive deception," Fujioka said. "It's true that there were comfort women, but they weren't recruited by force, or held as sex slaves. They were prostitutes, and as prostitutes, they made money. They were hired by brokers and when their contracts were up, they were able to go back to their own countries."

Teacher Kenji Watanabe has a very different point of view about history, which he shares with his students every day at a private high school. He says that if textbooks omit the issue of comfort women, "Japan's history education in schools will be distorted."

Judging from his students' independent views, Watanabe's maverick ways seem to be influential. "Some say learning the dark side of history strips your pride for your country," said one of his students, "but I think hiding the truth and showing only the positives is much more embarrassing."


Another said "history might be repeated" if Japan tries to cover up ugly events in its past. "War should never happen again. Those things should be recorded and exposed," he said.

Most Japanese do believe that exposing what happened is the right thing to do. But for the former comfort women all across Asia, the pain isn't likely to subside, as long as there are memories to share and people who try to keep their story from being told.


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