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The Editors

Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan UPDATED

May 11, 2015
Volume 13 | Issue 19 | Number 1


UPDATED - In response to overwhelmingly positive support for the open letter and requests to sign on, we opened a new list endorsed by 464 Japan scholars. The global list of signers since May 5th is available here.


Joint Statement by 16 Associations of History Scholars and Educators in Japan on the "Comfort Women" Issue is available in English translation here and in the Japanese original here.


On May 5, 2015 the online humanities and social sciences portal, H-Asia/H-Net, published a statement issued by 187 Japanese studies scholars that calls on Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to “act boldly” on significant issues raised during his historic speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 29 — a first for a Japanese prime minister.


In particular, the statement urges Prime Minister Abe to realize the assurances he made in this speech about Japan today: a nation that places primacy on “human rights” and “human security.” To achieve this, the scholars call on Abe to directly acknowledge the truth of the histories involved in the “suffering that Japan caused other countries” during the era of total war and empire that ended 70 years ago. Most important, they urge reconciliation between Japan and areas that were the nation’s former empire in Asia through honest acknowledgment of the past. Doing so would underline how different Japan is today.


Focusing especially on the history of the so-called “comfort women” of the Japanese military — one of the key components in the region’s tensions over its “history problems,” together with the Nanjing massacre and the Yasukuni shrine, Tokyo’s monument to all Japanese military war dead, including convicted war criminals — the scholars ask Prime Minister Abe to acknowledge openly that this system was “distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.”


Since 1993, when the Japanese government issued its benchmark apology ( Japanese original text) for this sordid history, successive prime ministers (save for Abe when he was prime minister in 2006-2007) have committed Japanese policy in varying degrees to supporting its words in action and deed:


“The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere. the origin of [many of] those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, [were] those from the Korean Peninsula …. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.”


Since 1993, in addition to learning more about how this system functioned in Korea and China where most of the victims came from, we gained far deeper understanding of how the Japanese military extended it throughout the empire and occupied territories: to the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Saipan, Guam and so on.


Any progress towards increased understanding and empathy that had been achieved since then was catastrophically derailed, however, in spring 2014 —especially between Japan and South Korea — when Prime Minister Abe’s administration announced that it would “review” what is commonly known as the Kono statement after the chief cabinet secretary who issued it. Now a year later during this important 70th anniversary year, relations between Tokyo and Seoul are commonly described as being at a “nadir” — a condition made even more noticeable because Seoul and Tokyo should be celebrating 50 years of “normalized” ties on June 22, 2015.


Below in English and Japanese we post this statement in full. It emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in Chicago in March 2015 and from subsequent discussions among a wide range of Japanese studies scholars working largely outside Japan and primarily publishing in English. At its core, the “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” makes clear its signers’ support of all efforts that reject nationalistically driven distortions of long proven histories.


The statement ends with the vital point: classrooms today include students from around the world who engage with “the record of the past that we bequeath them.” We all share the responsibility to “leave as full and unbiased accounting of past wrongs as possible.”


For details on the history of the "comfort women" see the Fact Sheet on Japanese Military "Comfort Women".


Japanese version available below. Korean version available here.




The undersigned scholars of Japanese studies express our unity with the many courageous historians in Japan seeking an accurate and just history of World War II in Asia. Because Japan is a second home as well as a field of research for many of us, we write with a shared concern for the way that the history of Japan and East Asia is studied and commemorated.


In this important commemorative year, we also write to celebrate seventy years of peace between Japan and its neighbors. Postwar Japan’s history of democracy, civilian control of the military, police restraint, and political tolerance, together with contributions to science and generous aid to other countries, are all things to celebrate as well.


Yet problems of historical interpretation pose an impediment to celebrating these achievements. One of the most divisive historical issues is the so-called “comfort women” system. This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it.


Exploitation of the suffering of former “comfort women” for nationalist ends in the countries of the victims makes an international resolution more difficult and further insults the dignity of the women themselves. Yet denying or trivializing what happened to them is equally unacceptable. Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the twentieth century, the “comfort women” system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.


There is no easy path to a “correct history.” Much of the archive of the Japanese imperial military was destroyed. The actions of local procurers who provided women to the military may never have been recorded. But historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels. Important evidence also comes from the testimony of victims. Although their stories are diverse and affected by the inconsistencies of memory, the aggregate record they offer is compelling and supported by official documents as well as by the accounts of soldiers and others.


Historians disagree over the precise number of “comfort women,” which will probably never be known for certain. Establishing sound estimates of victims is important. But ultimately, whether the numbers are judged to have been in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands will not alter the fact of the exploitation carried out throughout the Japanese empire and its war zones.


Some historians also dispute how directly the Japanese military was involved, and whether women were coerced to become “comfort women.” Yet the evidence makes clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality. Employing legalistic arguments focused on particular terms or isolated documents to challenge the victims’ testimony both misses the fundamental issue of their brutalization and ignores the larger context of the inhumane system that exploited them.


Like our colleagues in Japan, we believe that only careful weighing and contextual evaluation of every trace of the past can produce a just history. Such work must resist national and gender bias, and be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation. We defend the freedom of historical inquiry, and we call upon all governments to do the same.


Many countries still struggle to acknowledge past injustices. It took over forty years for the United States government to compensate Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II. The promise of equality for African Americans was not realized in US law until a century after the abolition of slavery, and the reality of racism remains ingrained in American society. None of the imperial powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the United States, the European nations, and Japan, can claim to have sufficiently reckoned with their histories of racism, colonialism, and war, or with the suffering they inflicted on countless civilians around the world.


Japan today values the life and rights of every individual, including the most vulnerable. The Japanese government would not tolerate the exploitation of women in a system like the military “comfort stations” now, either overseas or at home. Even at the time, some officials protested on moral grounds. But the wartime regime compelled absolute sacrifice of the individual to serve the state, causing great suffering to the Japanese people themselves as well as to other Asians. No one should have to suffer such conditions again.


This year presents an opportunity for the government of Japan to show leadership by addressing Japan’s history of colonial rule and wartime aggression in both words and action. In his April address to the US Congress, Prime Minister Abe spoke of the universal value of human rights, of the importance of human security, and of facing the suffering that Japan caused other countries. We applaud these sentiments and urge the Prime Minister to act boldly on all of them.


The process of acknowledging past wrongs strengthens a democratic society and fosters cooperation among nations. Since the equal rights and dignity of women lie at the core of the “comfort women” issue, its resolution would be a historic step toward the equality of women and men in Japan, East Asia and the world.


In our classrooms, students from Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere discuss these difficult issues with mutual respect and probity. Their generation will live with the record of the past that we bequeath them. To help them build a world free of sexual violence and human trafficking, and to promote peace and friendship in Asia, we must leave as full and unbiased an accounting of past wrongs as possible.




Daniel Aldrich, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University.


Jeffrey Alexander, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.


Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University.


Marnie Anderson, Associate Professor of History, Smith College.


E. Taylor Atkins, Presidential Teaching Professor of History, Northern Illinois University.


Paul D. Barclay, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Program Chair, Lafayette College.


Jan Bardsley, Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


James R. Bartholomew, Professor, Department of History, The Ohio State University.


Brett de Bary, Professor, Asian Studies and Comparative Literature, Cornell University.


Michael Baskett, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Kansas


Alan Baumler, Professor of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


Alexander R. Bay, Associate Professor, History Department, Chapman University.


Theodore C. Bestor, Professor of Social Anthropology, Harvard University.


Victoria Bestor, Director of the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources.


Davinder Bhowmik, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington.


Herbert Bix, Professor Emeritus of History and Sociology, Binghamton University.


Daniel Botsman, Professor of History, Yale University.


Michael Bourdaghs, Professor of Japanese Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.


Thomas Burkman, Research Professor of Asian Studies Emeritus, SUNY Buffalo.


Susan L. Burns, Associate Professor of History, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.


Eric Cazdyn, Distinguished Professor of Aesthetics and Politics, Department of East Asian Studies & Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto.


Parks M. Coble, Professor of History, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.


Haruko Taya Cook, Instructor of Languages and Cultures, William Paterson University.


Theodore F. Cook, Professor of History, William Paterson University.


Bruce Cumings, Professor of History, University of Chicago.


Katarzyna Cwiertka, Professor of Modern Japanese Studies, Universiteit Leiden.


Charo D'Etcheverry, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Eric Dinmore, Associate Professor of History, Hampden-Sydney College.


Lucia Dolce, Chair, Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions, University of London, SOAS.


Ronald P. Dore, Honorary Fellow, London School of Economics.


John W. Dower, Professor Emeritus of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Mark Driscoll, Professor of East Asian Studies, UNC, Chapel Hill.


Prasenjit Duara, Raffles Professor of Humanities, National University of Singapore.


Alexis Dudden, Professor of History, University of Connecticut.


Martin Dusinberre, Professor of Global History, University of Zürich.


Peter Duus, Professor of History (Emeritus), Stanford University.


Steve Ericson, Associate Professor of History, Dartmouth College.


Elyssa Faison, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma.


Norma Field, Professor Emerita of East Asian Studies, University of Chicago.


W. Miles Fletcher, Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


Petrice R. Flowers, Associate Professor Political Science, University of Hawaii.


Joshua A. Fogel, Professor of History, York University, Toronto.


Sarah Frederick, Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature, Boston University.


Dennis J. Frost, Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Kalamazoo College.


Sabine Fruhstuck, Professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.


James Fujii, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of California, Irvine.


Takashi Fujitani, Professor of History, University of Toronto.


Sheldon M. Garon, Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University.


Timothy S. George, Professor of History, University of Rhode Island.


Christopher Gerteis, Chair, Japan Research Centre, SOAS, University of London.


Carol Gluck, Professor of History, Columbia University.


Andrew Gordon, Professor of History, Harvard University.


Helen Hardacre, Professor of Religions and Society, Harvard University.


Harry Harootunian, Emeritus Professor of History, New York University; Adjunct Professor of Japanese History, Columbia University.


 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Professor of History, University of California at Santa Barbara.


Akiko Hashimoto, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh.


 Sally A. Hastings, Associate Professor of History, Purdue University.


Tom Havens, Professor of History, Northeastern University.


Kenji Hayao, Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Boston College.


Laura Hein, Professor of History, Northwestern University.


Robert Hellyer, Associate Professor of History, Wake Forest College.


Manfred Henningsen, Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa.


Christopher L. Hill, Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature, University of Michigan.


Katsuya Hirano, Associate Professor of History, UCLA.


David L. Howell, Professor of Japanese History, Harvard University.


Douglas Howland, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


James L. Huffman, H. Orth Hirt Professor of History Emeritus, Wittenberg University.


Janet Hunter, Saji Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science.


Akira Iriye, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University.


Rebecca Jennison, Professor, Department of Humanities, Kyoto Seika University.


William Johnston, Professor of History, Wesleyan University.


John Junkerman, Documentary Filmmaker.


Ikumi Kaminishi, Associate Professor of Art and Art History, Tufts University.


Ken Kawashima, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.


William W. Kelly, Professor of Anthropology, Yale University.


James Ketelaar, Professor of History, University of Chicago.


R. Keller Kimbrough, Associate Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder.


Miriam Kingsberg, Assistant Professor of History, University of Colorado.


Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies and Professor of History, Temple University Japan.


Victor Koschmann, Professor of History, Cornell University.


Emi Koyama, Independent Scholar, Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization (FeND).


Ellis S. Krauss, Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego.


Josef Kreiner, Professor Emeritus, Rheinische Freidrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn.


Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, Harvard University.


Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University.


Thomas Lamarre, James McGill Professor, East Asian Studies , Art History and Communications Studies, McGill University.

Andrew Levidis, Fellow, Reischauer Institute, Harvard University.


Ilse Lenz, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.


Mark Lincicome, Associate Professor, Department of History, College of the Holy Cross.


Sepp Linhart, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Studies and Sociology, University of Vienna.


Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University.


Angus Lockyer, Lecturer in the History of Japan, Department of History, SOAS, University of London.


Susan Orpett Long, Professor of Anthropology, John Carroll University.


David B. Lurie, Associate Professor of Japanese History and Literature, Columbia University.


Vera Mackie, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Wollongong.


Wolfram Manzenreiter, Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Vienna.


William Marotti, Associate Professor of History, UCLA.


Y. Tak Matsusaka, Professor of History, Wellesley College.


Trent Maxey, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History, Amherst College.


James L. McClain Professor of History, Brown University.


Gavan McCormack, Professor Emeritus of History, Australian National University.


Melissa McCormick, Professor, Harvard University.


David McNeill, Journalist and Professor, Sophia University.


Mark Metzler, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin.


Ian J. Miller, Professor of History, Harvard University.


Laura Miller, Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis.


Janis Mimura, Associate Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook.


Richard H. Minear, Professor of History (Emeritus), University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Yuki Miyamoto, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University.


Barbara Molony, Professor of History, Santa Clara University.


Yumi Moon, Associate Professor of History, Stanford.


Aaron Moore, Lecturer in East Asian History, The University of Manchester.


Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Professor of Japanese History, Australian National University.


Aurelia George Mulgan, Professor of Japanese Politics, University of New South Wales.


R. Taggart Murphy, Professor, International Political Economy, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Campus.


Tetsuo Najita, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Chicago.


Miri Nakamura, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature, College of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University.


 John Nathan, Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.


Christopher Nelson, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.


Markus Nornes, Professor of Asian Cinema, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


David Tobaru Obermiller, Associate Professor, Department of History & Japanese Studies Program, Gustavus Adolphus College.


Eiko Otake, Visiting artist, Wesleyan University.


Simon Partner, Professor of History, Duke University.


T.J. Pempel, Jack M. Forcey Professor of Political Science for Study of East Asian Politics, University of California, Berkeley.


Matthew Penney, Associate Professor of History, Concordia University.


Samuel E. Perry, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Brown University.


Catherine Phipps, Associate Professor, University of Memphis


Leslie Pincus, Associate Professor of History, University of Michigan.


Morgan Pitelka, Associate Professor and Director of the Carolina Asia Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Janet Poole, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.


Roger Pulvers, Author and Translator, Sydney, Australia.


Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University.


Fabio Rambelli, Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies and Professor of Japanese Religions and Cultural History, University of California, Santa Barbara.


Mark Ravina, Professor of History, Emory University.


Steffi Richter, Professor of East Asian Studies, Universität Leipzig.


Luke Roberts, Professor of History, University of California Santa Barbara.


Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and History of Art, University of Michigan.


Jay Rubin, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University.


Ken Ruoff, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies, Portland State University.


Jordan Sand, Professor of History, Georgetown University.


Wesley Sasaki-Uemura, Associate Professor of Japanese History, University of Utah.


Ellen Schattschneider, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Brandeis University.


Andre Schmid, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.


Amanda C. Seaman, Associate Professor of Japanese and Director of Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Ethan Segal, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University.


Wolfgang Seifert, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Studies, University of Heidelberg.


Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, Cornell University; Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.


Franziska Seraphim, Associate Professor of History, Boston College.


Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu, Professor of History, Rice University.


Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Associate Professor of History, Williams College.


Patricia Sippel, Professor, Toyo Eiwa University.


Richard Smethurst, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pittsburgh.


Kerry Smith, Associate Professor of History, Brown University.


Daniel Sneider, Associate Director for Research, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University.


M. William Steele, Professor of History, International Christian University.


Brigitte Steger, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies, University of Cambridge.


Stefan Tanaka, Professor of Communication, University of California, San Diego.


Alan Tansman, Professor of Japanese Literature, University of California Berkeley.


Sarah Thal, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Michael F. Thies, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, UCLA


Mark Tilton, Associate Professor of Political Science, Purdue University.


Julia Adeney Thomas, Associate Professor of History, University of Notre Dame.


John Whittier Treat, Emeritus Professor, Yale University; Professor, Ewha Womans University.


Hitomi Tonomura, Professor of History, University of Michigan


Jun Uchida, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University.


J. Keith Vincent, Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature, Boston University.


Stephen Vlastos, Professor of History, University of Iowa.


Ezra F. Vogel, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University.


Klaus Vollmer, Professor of Japanese Studies, LMU Munich University.


Anne Walthall, Professor Emerita of History, University of California, Irvine.


Max Ward, Assistant Professor of History, Middlebury College.


Lori Watt, Associate Professor of History, Washington University in St. Louis.


Gennifer Weisenfeld, Professor, Duke University.


Michael Wert, Associate Professor, Marquette University.


Kären Wigen, Professor of History, Stanford University.


Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Montana State University.


Samuel H. Yamashita, Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History, Pomona College.


Daqing Yang, Associate Professor, George Washington University.


Christine Yano, Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.


Marcia Yonemoto, Associate Professor of History, University of Colorado Boulder.


Lisa Yoneyama, Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.


Theodore Jun Yoo, Associate Professor of History, University of Hawaii.


Takashi Yoshida, Professor, Western Michigan University.


Louise Young, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Eve Zimmerman, Barbara Morris Caspersen Associate Professor of Humanities & Associate Professor of Japanese, Wellesley University.


Reinhard Zöllner, Professor of Japanese and Korean Studies, University of Bonn.


This statement emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting held in Chicago during March 2015, and from subsequent discussions on line among a wide range of Japan scholars. It represents the opinions only of those who have signed it and not of any organization or institution.



































ジェフリー ・アレクサンダー(ウィスコンシン大学パークサイド校准教授) 




マーニー・アンダーソン (スミス大学准教授)


E・テイラー・アトキンズ(北イリノイ大学教授 )






ジェームズ•R・バーソロミュー (オハイオ州立大学教授)
















































































シェルドン ・M・ ガ ロン(プリンストン大学教授)
































































































































































キャサリン・ フィップス(メンフィス大学准教授)










































































ヒトミ・トノムラ (ミシガン大学教授)