3-2 Is It “Masochistic” to Teach about the Comfort Women in School Textbooks?

Some people say that it is “masochistic” to write about the comfort women in school textbooks. And others claim that since it is disgraceful for a nation to have the comfort women issue, it is educationally harmful to lower children’s pride in being Japanese by going out of our way to teach the subject. They give as their reason, that the issue is fabricated, that former so-called “comfort women” are only lying, that they made a lot of money by working as prostitutes and yet are still clamoring for compensation. In fact internationally these victims are not known as “comfort women” but as “sex slaves of the military” emphasizing the reality of a situation in which the rights of teenage girls were trampled on, being deceived, abducted, imprisoned, and subject to be continuous rape by dozens of soldiers on a daily basis. There have been repeated recommendations to the Japanese government to deal with these victims sincerely: to apologize and pay compensation. (For more about these particular matters, please see other areas of this website, where they are described in detail.)

Let’s have a look at the first reason. Is it unnecessary to describe something that is disgraceful to a nation?

In the past, I asked a class the following question, “How do you feel discussing issues in class that are painful for Japanese people to learn about? Do you want to know?” And the Japanese students immediately replied, saying things like, “I want to know. Please tell me.” “Of course. I don’t want to be ignorant of the truth.” and “A true friend would honestly point out your shortcomings.”


Since this school was in Yokohama, there were many Chinese students who lived in Chinatown. Some of these young women wrote in descriptions of their thoughts that they couldn’t understand why I had asked the class such a question.


One wrote: “Japanese people are too ignorant about Japan’s actions during the war. Obviously you should teach what actually happened… My grandmother doesn’t talk of her childhood in China. But once when news of the war came on TV, she said that the Japanese were so cruel, and she angrily spoke of how they were called riben guizi (“Devils from Japan”), but then tears came to her eyes and she said they weren’t only cruel but shameless as well. You must teach people what really took place, and please do a much better job at it.”

This student taught me that it was wrong to see things only from a Japanese point of view. Imagine the victims’ point of view. How must they feel about the fact that the comfort women issue isn’t described in Japanese textbooks?


If you only respect yourself and don’t respect others, you are self-centered, which is very far removed from true self-respect or pride. If you want to truly respect yourself, then you must sincerely accept the truth, no matter how hard it is, apologize from the bottom of your heart and avoid repeating the same mistakes.


Is it really “masochistic” to describe something unfavorable to a nation in school textbooks? In Germany, Japan’s World War II ally, sincere reflection as a nation is demonstrated and stipulated by law, and the fact of wrongdoing by Germany is described in detail in school textbooks. Children study hard and think on their own about how to avoid repeating the same mistakes. In Germany, the war is reflected upon not only in textbooks, but also in many situations and places. History of German wrongdoing is recorded in unexpected places in town, persons with Nazi connections still can’t enter government service, and instead of the ordinary salute with which we are familiar, they put their hands forward. This is out of consideration for the victims, and not to call to mind the “Heil Hitler” salute.


Between 2014 and 2017, the German government decided to pay U.S. $1 billion in additional compensation to Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime. Not only had Germany paid a total of U.S. $70 billion in compensation to Nazi victims for 60 years since 1952, but its government also negotiates on a regular basis with Nazi victims and their organizations and pays additional compensation when Nazi crimes are newly confirmed. The issue is not the amount of money, but in the difference in the attitude towards history between Germany and Japan. The former expresses an intention to “perpetually pursue responsibility for Nazi crimes.”


本表紙 ヴァイツゼッカー演説 縮小版

In 1985, then President of Germany Richard von Weizsäcker gave a speech entitled “40 Years in the Wilderness” The following passages are quoted from this speech.


“Most Germans had believed that they were fighting and suffering for the good of their country. And now it turned out that their efforts were not only in vain and futile, but had served the inhuman goals of a criminal regime……” “Remembering means recalling an occurrence honestly and undistortedly so that it becomes a part of our very beings. This places high demands on our truthfulness.”

“All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it.” “It is not a case of coming to terms with the past. That is not possible. It cannot be subsequently modified or made not to have happened.”

“However, anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.”


The Japanese Prime Minister, many politicians and others deny past war crimes and repeatedly make remarks that profane the honor of the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system who were victims of inhumane crimes. Class A war criminals are enshrined as gods at Yasukuni Shrine and the Prime Minister as well as Cabinet and Diet members go to visit it. At schools, teachers and students are forced use war-glorifying textbooks that have been officially approved despite myriad errors, and to honor the Hinomaru (Japanese flag) and Kimigayo (National Anthem) which from the point of view of the rest of Asia, are symbols of Japanese invasion.


If you conceal a disgraceful truth, you may repeat the same disgraceful mistakes. Actually, isn’t it more disgraceful to conceal the unfavorable truth? Is this not the truly self-diminishing and in fact masochistic act? The significant purpose in studying facts is to honestly confess to the truth, no matter how unfavorable or disgraceful it is, sincerely examine the reasons, and reflect on your past conduct in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.