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Wakamiya’s Review from Tokyo

Posted July. 31, 2014 07:24,   


It is a sad news that Park Yoo-ha, Sejong University professor who wrote the “Empire’s Comfort Women,” was sued for defamation. In addition, “For Reconciliation,” also authored by Park, was under attack and some demanded the book be removed from the list of recommended books. Even newspapers covered a claim that she advocates Japanese nationalists, which I cannot overlook.

It is no wonder because “For Reconciliation” was translated and published in Japan and the Asahi Shimbun gave it the "Osaragi Jiro Prize” in 2007. I am responsible for this as a juror because I was an editorial writer of the Japanese newspaper back then.

The prize created in 2001 is given to an excellent contemporary work, and Park was the first winner both as a foreigner and woman.

The book was impressive as she criticized extreme arguments from both Korea and Japan and sought after ways of reconciliation, mentioning four challenges lying ahead of the two countries – history textbooks, comfort women, Yasukuni Shrine, and Takeshima (Dokdo in Korean). The jury highly appreciated her tight logical development as well as her courage that raised issues despite criticism.

Four jurors except me were top intellectuals from outside the company. Among them, Akira Iriye, a professor emeritus of Harvard University, strongly recommended this book. He sent to the Asahi Shimbun why he selected the book:

“Park Yoo-ha’s book is highly academic and balanced as a comment on current issues. In addition, it is a rare masterpiece written in easy sentences. She develops her arguments persuasively after carefully reviewing historical documents and opinion polls over heavy issues like misunderstanding and ignorance or emotional conflicts between Korea and Japan. Publishing such book in both countries should be celebrated for the sound development of the bilateral relationship. It has an important implication for the reconciliation between countries and peoples around the world.”

Iriye well versed in diplomatic history is the first Japanese to serve as the president of the American Historical Association. He has criticized Japan’s invasion of other countries in the past. He is far from representing Japanese nationalists.

If Japan gives a prize to a book that criticizes Korea’s excessive nationalism, would it draw backlash because it could give an impression that the book is pro-Japanese? We also discussed the concerns. While the right wing media in Japan criticized it harshly, Korean newspapers wrote a book review that it was persuasive. In addition, I thought it would be meaningful if the book wins a prize from the Asahi Shimbun, which Japanese nationalists think as an eyesore.

I once wrote an op-ed for the Asahi Shimbun about my daydreaming of Japan yielding Takeshima to Korea to turn it into an island of friendship. For that reason, I am still under fire by the right wing as a “traitor.” I am often told that I made a courageous comment but I think Professor Park was much more courageous than I. Above all, it is because it is more unlikely to have a free argument over the relationship between the two countries in Korea.

The “Empire’s Comfort Women” is a masterpiece that had an in-depth discussion over comfort women, an issue which was also covered in “For Reconciliation.” She points out the hollowness of the conflicts between the two extremes – “Naive girls who were forced to become sex slaves” vs. “No, they are only paid prostitutes” – and seeks ways for solution.

It would be regrettable if the book caused misunderstanding but it rather made me more heartbroken about the comfort women under the colonial rule. I do not think the book is a discredit to the grandmothers. The book review of the Dong-A Ilbo also said, “The book never advocates the voices of the shallow right wing of Japan.” Having a different opinion is good and debates need to be encouraged. However, blocking a free speech by law is not a plus for the democracy of Korea. Many Japanese people wait for the book to be published in Japan.

I would like to ask a favor to those who call Park the “advocate of the Japanese right wing.” If that is the case, call me who supports Park the “advocate of the Japanese right wing.” Then, the right wing would soften their attack to me slightly.

(Written by Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former chief editor of the Asahi Shimbun)