Archive for the 'Japan' Category


What is the point of the Japan-South Korea ‘comfort women’ deal?

The early English twitter and media coverage of the announcement that Japan-South Korea had brokered a deal to resolve the issue of reparations for South Korean ‘comfort women’ was couched in mostly positive language with some journalists expressing the hope that, this time, the apology would be sufficient to end the issue once and for all. Yet, even a basic knowledge of the issue and a small amount of common sense should be enough to see that this deal is as bad, if not worse, than the previous failed apology attempts.

A deal only covering South Korean victims reeks of realpolitik. Given Japan and South Korea’s economic relationship and the strength of the comfort women movement in South Korea it is not surprising that this deal was wrangled with South Korea and not Indonesia, Taiwan, or the Philippines, etc.

But even putting that aside, here are three obvious reasons why this deal is fatally flawed:

  1. The women, their families or representatives weren’t at the negotiating table

The picture attached to most of the stories gave us the first clue that the deal was bogus. Two Asian men shaking hands standing in front of their respective national flags is not a picture that encapsulates the story of an historic acceptance of an apology to female victims of wartime sexual slavery.

(picture source)

As the picture does suggest, none of the women, families or representative organizations were included, consulted or involved in the discussions and negotiations for agreeing the deal. Nor were the women alerted or briefed about the deal prior to it being made public. This is even more evident in the fact that the deal fails to include key asks that the ‘comfort women’ have been calling for and is as equivocal as previous apologies that failed to gain the acceptance of the victims, their families or representatives.

  1. It’s a deal, not an apology

Rather than an unequivocal apology and reparations, this agreement is very much a political deal – South Korea removes the statue across from the embassy and Japan will pay out 1 billion yen of government funds and repeat the same carefully worded apology that avoids acknowledgement of legal responsibility. The deal is already coming under threat as South Korea seeks to take advantage of the vague wording in the deal to avoid moving the statue.

As for the money, it already looks like the proposed Fund is in trouble. A few years ago, two South Korean former ‘comfort women’ set up their own fund, the Butterfly Fund, which works to provide support for victims of wartime sexual violence in conflict areas around the world. This genesis of this fund was the position taken by these two women that the apology counts for more than the money. They said that, if the Japanese government ever paid reparations, they would use that money to support other victims of sexual violence in conflict. In the absence of any apology or financial compensation from the Japanese government, the women set up the fund from private donations. Hankyoreh reports that the Korean Council for Women Drafted into Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Korean Council) is refusing to engage with the proposed fund which will effectively make it impossible for the new fund to get established.

  1. Victims accept an apology, not governments.

States have the right to apply for reparations on behalf of survivors. However it seems inconceivable in this day and age that a government would apply for reparations without including, consulting and getting the explicit support of the women themselves to accept the agreement. This is especially true when the victims, their families and representative organization are so well organized with the ability to garner public support to back up their position. As we already saw, the Wednesday demonstration following the agreement attracted much larger numbers than usual and the group enjoys widespread public support in opposing the removal of the statue. The failure to involve the victims and gain their support to publicly accept the apology offered by the Japanese government is what will ultimately doom this agreement like all the ones before it.

The victims, their families and representative have made it very clear over the years what they believe would constitute an acceptable reparations package. Given that both the Japanese and South Korean government would have already known that this deal would be unacceptable to the women and that the public support in Korea would inevitably support the women, it is unclear what both sides hope to achieve by this endeavor.



Currently reading

Current reading “Paprika” by Yasutaka Tsutsui. I saw the anime of this book a few years ago and have read other works by Tsutsui, Hell and Salmonella men on Porno and other stories. I’m a big fan. Like his other works, this is translated by Andrew Miller.




Japan’s Remilitarisation

I just finished reading Japan’s Remilitarisation by Christopher W. Hughes. While this is a 2009 publication it gives an overview of where things stood at that date and highlights characters who are still heavily engaged in Japan’s political scene – including super-conservative Shinzo Abe who has just been re-appointed as head of the LDP ahead of impending elections.

The book systematically goes through criteria that would signify a remilitarisation of Japan and assesses each of these criteria against what is happening in Japan. This covers, military doctrine, expenditure and power projection; transformation of civilian control; Japan’s military industrial complex; external military commitments; and anti-militaristic principles (such as in education and public opinion). In each of these we see that to varying degrees there is indeed a slight but steady remilitarisation of Japan and that the long-term trend, despite short-term political ups and downs, is towards remilitarisation but with little fear of any return to a pre-war scale.

This book was particularly interesting in view of the article highlighted over at The Marmots’s Hole  regarding the need to up-date the Japan-US security pact in light of the on-going territorial dispute between China and Japan. I expect there is a valid argument to make on the need to update this pact, but this article doesn’t make it.  And before I criticise the article further, I should also note that I’m not an expert in this area and the article’s definition of ‘defence’ was not clear to me as it seemed to be referring to Japan’s offensive capabilities (but maybe it meant something else).

The premise of the article seems to be that Japan should be more like the US in their military role and stance. That way, the security pact between them would be great because Japan and US would be equal partners. This would mean Japan has to spend more on their SDF/military, renounce Article 9 of the Constitution and become more ready, willing and able to get engaged in international military theatres. And not expect US to get involved in conflicts that don’t concern the US such as the current island dispute. The article doesn’t say what US would have to do.

The article suggests that Japan is being obstinate by respecting its own Constitution, recalcitrant by sticking to a budgetary cap on military spending (which is a bit inaccurate because Japan does get around the cap and spends more on defence that the 1% signifies. For example via the Japan Coast Guard and by excluding certain costs from the defence budget such as JSDF pensions), and selfish for not developing nuclear weapons. And then makes a presumption that America’s renewed commitment in the region would be a good thing. (After noting that America’s attention has been in the Middle East, it doesn’t link well to then suggest that this type of attention is desirable in Asia).

The article not only fails to take stock of what Japan is already doing, including to increase its inter-operability US and its increased role in international peace and security operations (a patchy record), it also doesn’t address the obvious risk with calling for a more overtly militarised Japan. As “Japan’s Remilitarisation” concludes:

“The US may seek to nudge Japan towards enhancing security cooperation, but it needs to recognise that Japan is a changing quantity as an alliance partner. Japan will demand increased reciprocity from the US in return for meeting expanding alliance expectations. …The [US administration] will need to be seen to reciprocate more fully on key strategic issues, including North Korea and China, if it is not to be saddled with a more obdurate alliance partner more willing to question US security strategy and to generate tensions with regional neighbours”


Currently reading: 69


This is my first book by Ryu Murakami and is in line with this year’s goal of reading more Japanese authors. Ryu is apparently famous for Audition which has been turned into a movie of the thriller/horror genre. 69, although I am only part way through, is apparently autobiographical and is about a teenager in 1969 Japan – so far its witty and entertaining. I have a copy of Miso Soup ready to read later this year as well. In Amazon it looked like many people who bought 69 or other books by Ryu also purchased Out or Real World by Natsuo Kirino – I have read and enjoyed both of these and enjoyed them. As well as Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino.


Currently Reading

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968.



This is a new section I thought I’d add this year. My old blog had space on the side bar for this but I have decided to add it in now as a post. So:

Salmonella Men on Planet Porno

(Photo Source:  Alma Books)

Salmonella Men on Planet Porno [and other stories] by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Translated by Andrew Driver.


Solntse/The Sun

The BFI is currently featuring a directorspective of Aleksandr Sokurov, a Russian film director. I am pretty much ignorant of Sokurov’s work but he is described as a spiritual voice of Russian film. He is famous for several movies, it seems, including Russian Ark and other films depicting St Petersburg. But what interested me in Sokurov was a tetralogy known as the “Men of Power” series, which he has recently done looking at “three individuals who have wielded extraordinary destructive authority during the 20th Century: Lenin (Taurus), Hitler (Moloch), and Hirohito (Solntse). The fourth film is about Faust, “the mythical forerunner” of these later men. Sokurov won the Golden Lion Award at Venice this year for Faust. But  I was interested in the third of these movies, a movie called The Sun (Solntse) looking at the Emperor Hirohito.

Made in 2004, this movie covers a couple of days around the time when Japan surrenders and the Emperor goes to meet General MacArthur. As the film review by JG Ballad notes:

The Sun resembles a dreamlike newsreel filmed by a secret camera deep in the emperor’s bunker. We see Hirohito waited on by his cringing retainers, who dress and feed him as if he were a handicapped child, which in effect he was. As he waits for them to button his shirt, or murmurs to his marine biology specimens in his private laboratory, he resembles a royal figure rather closer to home: well-meaning, babied by his wife and utterly disengaged from reality

This movie doesn’t really seek to deal with the argument about the extent to which we think Hirohito was a guileless puppet at the mercy of military leaders or whether he was complicit and enthusiastic about the war. He is a rather sympathetic character in that he appears so child-like and human but at the same time he does not appear to be without an understanding of the war and his role. The movie does lean toward  the ‘guileless puppet’ image more so than the other image but mostly it doesn’t bother to delve into that debate.

But the most important part of this film is the depiction of the bombing of Tokyo; Hirohito’s nightmare vision. Julian Graffy describes it as:

…a stunning vision of apocalypse unlike almost anything Sokurov has shot…The emperor imagines Tokyo as an infernal landscape of burning, bombed-out buildings being raided by gross and terrifying creatures of the deep.

It is indeed stunning to see the camera swoop over the burning landscape. Bomber planes fly into the view of the screen and then morph into birds and then sea monsters. Bombs that drop and swim away like fish to cause havoc as the air ripples and turns into an underwater scene. Below the bombs explode in short bursts of flames that merge into an already burning city. As the viewer you feel like you are flying around above watching it all. It was amazing.

Sokurov has done other works looking at Japan, including Oriental Elegy and A Humble Life. Both of which I didn’t get time to see but looked quite interesting and are more documentary, not movies..

July 2018
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