2019 Sushi Lecture
The “History Wars” and the “Comfort Woman” Issue: Revisionism and the Right-wing in Contemporary Japan and the U.S.
Tomomi Yamaguchi (Montana State University)
An issue of intense controversy currently in Japan is “comfort women”, with many in the right wing relentlessly attacking the accepted historical narrative and denying that there was any government involvement in, or corresponding responsibility for, a system of sexual slavery. Right-wing media and intellectuals have begun to use the term “history wars” to refer to this development. They have criticized the “comfort woman” monuments, resolutions, museum exhibits, and coverage of “comfort women” in history textbooks and curriculums in the U.S.. In particular, as “comfort woman” monuments and statues have been built in various locations in the world, including the U.S., during the last decade, they have become the target of attacks from the Japanese government and Japanese right-wingers. They consider the United States to be the major “battleground” on the “comfort woman” issue, as well as to the United Nations.
Based on my anthropological fieldwork on the Japanese right-wing activities in the U.S. and Japan, as well as the experiences of people involved in the making of the “comfort women” memorials in the U.S., I will demonstrate how this issue functions as an important rallying point to tie together disparate right-wing elements including the Japanese government. I will also highlight how the acts of remembering and commemorating the survivors’ experiences of wartime violence against women become such a contentious, political issue that mobilize the Japanese right-wing so intensively and emotionally both in Japan and the United States.
Tomomi Yamaguchi is an associate professor of Anthropology and the director of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Montana State University. Yamaguchi earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2004, and she currently serves as an editor of the Asia-Pacific Journal, Japan Focus. Her research interests are feminism and the right-wing movements in contemporary Japan. She is a co-author (with Nogawa Motokazu, Tessa Morris-Suzuki and Emi Koyama) of Umi wo Wataru Ianfu Mondai: Uha no Rekishisen wo Tou [The “Comfort Women” Issue Goes Overseas: Questioning the Right-wing “History Wars”], Iwanami Shoten, 2016, and her latest article is “Revisionism, Ultranationalism, Sexism: Relations Between the Far Right and the Establishment Over the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue”. Social Science Japan Journal. Vol. 21, Issue 2, 2018: 219-238.