Japan’s Abe Objects to ‘Comfort Women’ Textbook Portrayal


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken aim at an American textbook he says is inaccurate in its description of how Japan acted during World War II in an effort to change the way American students learn about the country’s wartime history.

Abe spoke in front of Parliament, promising to increase efforts to fight the current views concerning the country’s wartime actions, which he referred to as mistaken.  His speech discussed one high school history textbook in particular, published by McGraw-Hill Education and in use in various schools throughout California, saying it contained a negative portrayal of the country, saying that Japan must work to replace it, writes Victoria Kim for The Los Angeles Times.

Specifically, he objects to the inclusion of content about women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war.  While Korean activists refer to these women as sex slaves, Japanese conservatives argue they were willing prostitutes.

“I just looked at a document, McGraw-Hill’s textbook, and I was shocked,” The Japan Times quoted Mr. Abe as saying during a meeting of a parliamentary budget committee. “This kind of textbook is being used in the United States, as we did not protest the things we should have, or we failed to correct the things we should have.”

Earlier in the year, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a meeting had taken place between diplomats from the Japanese Consulate General in New York and officials from McGraw-Hill, in which a push was made for revisions to be made to the textbook.  At the meeting, diplomats mentioned “serious factual errors” contained within the book concerning comfort women among other things.

However, McGraw-Hill released a statement a few days later saying that it supported its textbook and the writing of its authors and had rejected the diplomat’s request, reports Martin Fackler for The New York Times.

While a number of scholars say there is no evidence to support the idea that Japanese soldiers forced the women into the industry, reports from former “comfort women” suggest they had been tricked or otherwise coerced against their will into the sex trade.

The textbook in question, titled “Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” is under the Japanese government’s watch as it continues its push to change what it believes to be inaccurate portrayals of the country’s history.  According to a passage in the book, “The Japanese Army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels.”

Meanwhile, a group of Japanese extremists have created an online petition on the topic, demanding that the California Department of Education put in their textbooks that the comfort women had been forced into sexual slavery, and had also offered their services to the US Army.

The issue comes at a time when the Japanese government is spending more money to improve how the country is portrayed in other areas.  Abe and other Conservatives disapprove of historical depictions suggesting Japan was the only aggressive country in the war, suggesting that the country instead was fighting to liberate Asia from Western domination.