Former Japanese Self-Defense Force official Shigeharu Oku, 69, was temporarily detained and forbidden from leaving South Korea this week. The offense: without permission, he overlaid the stele that bore Seiji Yoshida’s apology for supposedly taking women on the Korean peninsula forcibly to become “sex slaves” for Japanese forces during the Second World War.
Oku was actually sent in March by Seiji Yoshida’s son, who had organized for the rewriting of the falsified explanations inscribed on his late father’s the “Apology Monument.”
Mr. Yoshida’s son had explained that he “could no longer bear for Japanese-Korean relations to become further strained unnecessarily, due to my father’s continued spreading of falsehoods.”
On Monday, June 26, Oku met with the Sankei Shimbun in Seoul for an interview. He says he turned himself in because he had no desire to escape his crime if he had indeed broken the law.
South Korean prosecutors were to start a full investigation on June 27.
The story of Seiji Yoshida’s stele
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Asahi Shimbun reported extensively only the claims of Seiji Yoshida that he once forcibly recruited Korean comfort women “like slaves.”
In 1983, Seiji Yoshida inscribed an apology for “forced abductions” on a stone stele and had it erected at a national cemetery in Cheonan city in South Korea.
In 2014, Asahi decided that the claims were false, and so retracted its articles related to Yoshida’s testimony.
Yoshida’s son, believing the stele to be the cause of unnecessary tension between Japan and South Korea, asked Shigeharu Oku to remove it.
Last March, Oku overlaid the stele with another stone slab, inscribed only with Yoshida’s real name and birthplace and the word “cenotaph.”
Charge: Damage to Property
On the flight from Naha, Okinawa, to South Korea on June 24, Oku was told by the cabin crew that he should get off the plane first. Upon arriving at the Incheon International Airport, he was taken into custody by investigators and transferred to the police headquarters in the city of Cheonan, which has jurisdiction over the national cemetery where Yoshida’s apology stele stands. Oku was prepared to be detained.
The police are looking into allegations that Oku damaged property managed by the country of South Korea, and that he trespassed on nationally-owned land. Oku says he was told by the investigators that there would have been no trouble had Oku applied with the proper authorities ahead of time. Oku, however, had gotten the procedure backwards.
Seiji Yoshida’s false testimony has been the “ground zero” of the conflict between South Korea and Japan over the comfort woman issue. Oku agrees with Yoshida’s eldest son, who believes that the stone monument inscribed with the words of apology should be covered up.
Oku initially considered petitioning the cemetery’s managing office to have the inscription changed, but thought it would be unlikely that he would be given permission to do so. So, without applying beforehand, Oku overlaid the inscription with another stone slab. After the fact, Oku sent a letter to the managing office containing his name, his contact information, and the reason for his actions.
Oku admits that he acted without permission, but argues that since the stele was erected out of Yoshida’s private funds, its ownership rights were inherited by Yoshida’s eldest son upon Yoshida’s death. Anyone may enter the cemetery, Oku says, so what he did was not trespassing. Oku is considering filing a civil suit to have the stele cleared away entirely.
When Oku first tried to return to South Korea, he was stopped on the grounds that it was impossible to say how he would be treated once he arrived. However, Oku says he feels he was treated in a gentlemanly way during the police investigation, undergoing procedures which were in accordance with the law.
Oku feels that Yoshida’s false claims were spread because some Koreans exploited this Japanese man’s being anti-Japanese, and so used him for political purposes. “Koreans should be outraged by these lies,” Oku says.
Instead, the falsehood goes on, with almost no attempt made to verify them. Oku is concerned that, with the advent of the Moon Jae-in administration, there is a growing movement to revisit the Japan-South Korea comfort woman accord signed in December of 2015.
Oku points out that the Asahi Shimbun, which retracted its Yoshida-based reporting, should make greater efforts to explain the situation to South Koreans.
“I hope,” says Oku, “that my being detained in South Korea now will be reported inside South Korea, and that the South Korean people will thereby come to know that Seiji Yoshida’s testimony is a tissue of lies.”
Norio Sakurai is a correspondent of the Sankei Shimbun Seoul bureau.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)