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Hawkish education chief Matsuno to uphold government line on ‘comfort women’

Newly appointed education minister Hirokazu Matsuno says he stands by the government’s official take on history, including over so-called “comfort women,” women and girls forced to work at Imperial Japanese wartime military brothels.

South Korean media outlets call Matsuno a hawk. He has in the past put his name to at least one document that appears revisionist compared with the government’s official line.

“I’m a member of the Cabinet. So it’s only natural that I maintain the government’s official views on basic historical recognition,” Matsuno told reporters Monday.

He added: “Working as a Diet member for 16 years, I have had discussions in various places. But I don’t think anyone would say my opinions are biased by a certain ideology.”

South Korean media have aired concern over Matsuno’s appointment as education minister, alleging that he harbors revisionist ideas, including the idea that comfort women chose freely to work at brothels.

On Nov. 4, 2012, Matsuno and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were among 26 Diet members who put their names to an ad in the Star-Ledger, a New Jersey daily, that appears to support this idea. Abe was not prime minister at the time.

Titled “Yes, we remember the facts,” the open letter alleged that “no historical document has been found by historians or research organizations that positively demonstrate that women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Japanese army.”

This is stronger and potentially more hurtful to victims than the official government line, which merely rules out a role by government or military authorities in forcibly enlisting comfort women, “based on historical materials the government has unearthed.”

Matsuno added: “I don’t have any opinion beyond this,” but said his personal view remains unchanged.

Mainstream Japanese historians say Japanese authorities did not systematically recruit females against their will on the Korean Peninsula. Those who did, they say, were private-sector brokers who preyed in particular on those sold off by parents living in poverty.

But at least in the Dutch East Indies, girls and women were directly rounded up by Japanese soldiers and forced into military brothels as comfort women, historians say.

Abe’s government insists those were not acts organized by the Imperial Japanese Army or other government authorities but were isolated crimes committed by individuals.

Still, the military brothels were set up and run by private-sector businesses under instructions of the Japanese military. Many historians have therefore argued Japanese authorities were responsible for the misery of those girls and women, regardless of how they were recruited.

Ever since Abe became prime minister in December 2012, only he and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have been allowed to express views on sensitive history-related issues, apparently to avoid headaches for the government. Matsuno was not drawn further on the matter.

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