Connect with us

Special Reports

Over 100 Scholars Oppose UNESCO Registration of ‘Comfort Women’ Documents




More than 100 scholars of Japan have signed as of October 20 a statement to oppose a joint application filed by various groups from eight countries for the registration of documents pertaining to wartime “comfort women” in the UNESCO Memory of the World listings.


The UNESCO International Advisory Committee is meeting on October 24 to decide whether to accept or reject the materials. The scholars are requesting that during this time a dialogue be held with the groups that are seeking the registration.


The scholars are questioning the application procedure and the content of the documents.



At a press conference in Tokyo on October 16th, Shiro Takahashi, specially appointed professor at Meisei University, criticized UNESCO for failing to provide an opportunity for dialogue on this issues.


“Given that UNESCO aims to promote peace and friendship through mutual understanding, refusing to have a dialogue goes against its stated goals,” the professor said.


Shiro Takahashi


The statement points out that the documents relating to the so-called Nanking Massacre that were accepted for registration in 2015 have yet to be made public.  

As for the submission on “comfort women,” the statement observes that there are multiple problems with the documents. These include the fact that “it is asserted that the women were  coerced and were made ‘sex slaves’ without any concrete proof. This is another case of going against historical fact.”


The materials pertaining to the “comfort women” have received approval from the registration subcommittee, and it appears that this approval will be submitted to the International Advisory Committee. Although Director-General Irina Bokova will consult with the IAC, it has been the custom for the Director-General to confirm IAC recommendations.


 Irina Bokova



The following is the statement given by the scholars:


October 16, 2017


Statement of Japanese Scholars Opposed to the Joint Registration of the “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women’” of the Japanese Military with UNESCO’s “Memory of the World”


It appears that the Registration Subcommittee (RSC) considering the materials titled “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women,’” jointly submitted (hereafter joint application) by eight NGOs of different countries to the UNESCO “Memory of the World” program, has recommended to the International Advisory Committee (IAC) that these materials be inscribed with the “Memory of the World” program along with the “Nanjing Massacre” documents inscribed in 2015.  


If this is indeed the case, then we object and request that the IAC provide opportunities for dialogue with concerned parties, without advancing the materials for consideration. The reason for our objection and request is that the “Memory of the World” program is carried out under UNESCO auspices for the purpose of advancing friendship and mutual understanding among member states and thus opportunities for dialogue must without fail be provided for cases about which there are issues in dispute.


We remark first upon problems with the application process.


In 2015, UNESCO, overriding academic criticisms, forced through the registration of “Nanjing Massacre” documents after the IAC blindly accepted the RSC’s conclusions. That these registered documents are still not accessible by the public is a grave matter which impinges upon the fundamental operations of the “Memory of the World” program.


During the current joint-application process as well, Japanese scholars and private sector organizations, who are inescapably stakeholders in the items under consideration, have been refused any opportunity for dialogue.


The final report on the review process clearly specifies, for example, that, as a necessary mechanism for protecting the “Memory of the World” program from political abuses, dialogue among the concerned parties may be encouraged if no agreement has been reached regarding questioned nominations.  


In light of this, on August 23, an NGO from Japan that had also applied with UNESCO for the inscription of “Documentation on ‘Comfort Women’ and Japanese Army Discipline”—an application that included some of the same documents as those included in the application that appears to be heading for approval (items stored at the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA in the United States)—submitted an open letter requesting dialogue with the parties filing the joint application for “Voices of ‘Comfort Women.’” However, no sincere reply to the open letter has been received as of the date of this statement.


Second, in an e-mail dated April 10, the UNESCO Secretariat transmitted to the applicants the RSC’s preliminary recommendation regarding “political items.” The recommendations were made to the Japanese NGOs that had applied for registration of some of the same “questioned nominations.”


The Secretariat stated:

  • “The MoW Programme does not make historical judgments or interpretations of history.”
  • “The language of the text is subjective.”
  • “[It] makes specific claims concerning a UNESCO Member State.”
  • “[It] may influence the decisions of the current Japanese government.”
  • “Consent [of the legal owners and custodians] should be obtained.”


However, these same problems apply to the joint eight-country NGO application. Since this communication references only the Japanese application and not the joint application, it clearly reflects a double standard.


We next point out specific problems with the content of the joint-application materials.


First, the description given in the “Summary” is inappropriate: “the women and girls forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military.” It runs directly counter to historical fact to leave aside such things as the sexual violence by South Korean troops perpetrated during the Vietnam War and the South Korean military’s comfort women during the Korean War in order to focus exclusively on the “Japanese military comfort women”; to insist upon the forced nature of the recruitment of women without providing any concrete evidence for the claim; and to equate the comfort women with sex slaves.


The United States government spent seven years and $30 million to have an inter-agency working group—bridging the CIA, FBI, and other agencies—search through 8.4 million pages of classified materials, and yet this search failed to turn up a single document from either the US government or the US military corroborating either the forced abduction or the enslavement of the comfort women.


Second, the documents stored at the National Archives and Records Administration—documents for which both the Japanese NGO and the joint eight-country NGOs have applied for registration—contain materials that prove that the comfort women were not “sex slaves,” “forcibly enslaved,” or “girls,” as the joint applicants claim. According to the NARA documents in question, the comfort women received compensation, which they used to repay debts. Some comfort women were able to save and/or remit large sums of money. The women were not slaves—they were under no one’s “ownership” whatsoever. The notion that the Japanese military comfort women were “sex slaves” contradicts the considered views of many Japanese scholars as well as many highly-regarded scholars in South Korea and the United States.


Third, in the Mandalay Garrison Headquarters Comfort Station Regulations included in the documents (30 items) stored at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in England, and for which the joint applicants have applied for inscription, the comfort women are listed as “licensed prostitutes.” Also, the photographs and testimonies of British soldiers submitted with the application violate the “authenticity” test in the “Memory of the World” registration selection criteria. These original primary historical sources lack clear indication of exactly who witnessed what, where, and at what time and on what date with the result, that these sources have a very low level of reliability. These same materials include items about a comfort facility called “Geisha House” operated by the Australian military during the Korean War, and brothels in Incheon during the Korean War as well as prostitution in territories occupied by the Chinese Nationalist Guomindang (Kuomintang). In none of these testimonies is there any proof of the joint applicants’ claim that the comfort women were “forced into sex slavery.”


Fourth, the joint applicants’ assertion that the Japanese military’s comfort women system was a “wartime tragedy comparable to the Holocaust” is a malicious slander. On October 16, 2016, the Canada-Israel Friendship Association submitted a written opinion to UNESCO on this point, charging that these kinds of expressions distort the meaning of the Holocaust and made the criticism that, “By betraying its original principles, UNESCO has turned into a tool of imposing the political agenda of its most aggressive members through distortion of the very same cultural issues that it was supposed to protect.”


Fifth, anti-governmental groups that deny the diplomatic accord by the governments of both South Korea and Japan have joined the joint application in order to inscribe their own activist materials with the “Memory of the World” program. Further, their application seeks to inscribe pictures of supposed former comfort women, but these materials are not suitable for the “Memory of the World.” The General Guidelines of the Memory of the World state at 2.6.2 that “[documentary heritage] normally excludes items which are part of a fixed fabric (such as a building or a natural site), objects on which the signs/codes are incidental to their purpose, or items which were designed as non-reproducible ‘originals,’ such as paintings, three dimensional artefacts, or art objects per se.” If the materials in question are registered regardless of these regulations, then it will provoke needless discord and confusion, and may give rise to the abnormal situation in which anti-governmental groups from around the world flood UNESCO with applications to register their activist materials with the “Memory of the World” program.


Sixth, while the joint application emphasizes the global significance of the statues of young comfort women as “symbols of peace,” in reality, these statues have given rise to situations in which the peaceful coexistence of a wide variety of local communities is prevented, due to the bullying of children of Japanese descent and other such incidents. Thus, the statues have turned into “symbols of conflict.”



Before advancing the joint application to consideration, we ask that the IAC understands the importance of the above-listed points of argument, and we strongly request that the IAC provide, without fail, the opportunity for concerned parties to engage in dialogue.


103 scholars supporting this statement as of October 20, 2017



ITO Takashi (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo)

TANAKA Hidemichi (Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University)

WATANABE Toshio (Former President, Takushoku University)

TAKAHASHI Shiro (Distinguished Professor, Meisei University)

NISHIOKA Tsutomu (Visiting Professor, Reitaku University)



AOYAGI Takehiko (Former Professor, International University of Japan)

ARAI Koichiro (Professor, Aichi Gakuin University)

ARAKI Kazuhiro (Professor, Takushoku University)

ARIMA Tetsuo (Professor, Waseda University)

CHOE Kilsung (Professor Emeritus, Hiroshima University)

DOI Ikuma (Lecturer, Asia University)

EDWARDS Hiromi (Lecturer, University of Maryland)

EYA Osamu (Former Visiting Professor, Waseda University)

FUJII Genki (Lecturer, Takushoku University)

FUJIOKA Nobukatsu (Visiting Professor, Takushoku University)

FUKUCHI Atsushi (Professor Emeritus, Kochi University)

FUKUDA Hayaru (Professor, Meiji University)

FUKUI Yuzo (Professor, Tokyo International University)

FURUTA Hirosi (Professor, Tsukuba University)

HAMAYA Hidehiro (Professor Emeritus, Mie Chukyo University)

HARADA Hiroo (Professor, Senshu Univeristy)

HASEGAWA Michiko (Professor Emeritus, Saitama University)

HATA Ikuhiko (Former Professor, Nihon Univeristy)

HIGASHINAKANO Shudo (Professor, Asia University)

HIGUCHI Ryuichi (Professor Emeritus, Meiji Gakuin University)

HIRAKAWA Sukehiro (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo)

HIRAMA Yoichi (Former Professor, National Defense Academy)

ICHIMURA Shinichi (Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University)

IKEI Masaru (Professor Emeritus, Keio University)

INAMURA Kobo (Former Professor, Chuo University)

ISOMAE Hideji (Professor, Meijo University)

ITO Kenichi (Former Professor, Aoyama Gakuin University)

KAIZUKA Shigeki (Professor, Musashino University)

KANAOKA Hidero (Special Professor, Akita International University)

KATO Shujiro (Professor Emeritus, Toyo University)

KATSUOKA Kanji (Researcher, Meisei University)

KAWAKUBO Tsuyoshi (Associate Professor, Reitaku University)

KEINO Yoshio (Professor Emeritus, Heisei International University)

KINMONTH.H.Earl (Professor Emeritus, Taisho University)

KITAMURA Minoru (Professor, Ritsumeikan University)

KOBAYASHI Hiroaki (Professor Emeritus, Nihon University)

KOBAYASHI Michiyoshi (Professor Emeritus, Suzuka International University)

KOBORI Keiichiro (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo)

KOMORI Yoshihisa (Special Professor, Reitaku University)

KOYAMA Tsunemi (C, Otsuki Junior College)

KUBOTA Nobuyuki (Professor Emeritus, Gakushuin Women’s College)

KUBOTA Ruriko (Visiting Professor, Kokugakuin University)

KUNO Jun (Lecturer, Meijo University)

KURODA Kosei (Professor Emeritus, Hiroshima University)

MABUCHI Mutsuo (Professor, Kibi Kokusai University)

MATSUI Yoshikazu (Professor Emeritus, Osaka International University)

MATSUURA Mitsunobu (Professor, Kogakuin University)

MIYAHARA Satoru (Professor, Nagoya Women’s University)

MIYAWAKI Junko (Former Lecturer, The University of Tokyo)

MOMOCHI Akira (Professor Emeritus, Nihon University)

NAKATA Masatoshi (Professor, Yashima Gakuen University)

NISHI Osamu (Professor Emeritus, Komazawa University)

NISHIMURA Kohyu (Lecturer, Kanto Gakuin University)

NISHIO Kanji (Professor Emeritus, The University of Electro-Communications)

NITTA Hitoshi (Professor, Kogakkan University)

OGATA Tetsuya (Lecturer, Tokyo International University)

OGAWA Rei (Professor, Nippon Medical School)

OH Sonfa (Professor, Takushoku University)

OHARA Yasuo (Professor Emeritus, Kokugakuin University)

OIWA Yujiro (Professor, Tokyo International University)

OKAMOTO Koji (Professor Emeritus, Osaka International University)

OMORI Hiroshi (Former Visiting Professor, Yashima Gakuen University)

OSADA Goro (Professor Emeritus, Yokohama City University)

OSADA Mitsuo (Former Professor, Waseda University)

OYAMA Kazunobu (Professor, Kanagawa University)

PEMA Gyalpo (Professor, Takushoku University)

SAKAMOTO Masahiro (Former Professor, Chuo University)

SASE Masamori (Professor Emeritus, National Defense Academy)

SHIBA Koya (Professor, Kumamoto Gakuen University)

SHIBUYA Tsukasa (Professor Takushoku University)

SHIMADA Yoichi (Professor, Fukui Prefectural University)

SHIMOJO Masao (Professor, Takushoku University)

SHINOHARA Toshio (Professor, Kokushikan University)

SUGIHARA Seishiro (Former Professor, Josai University)

SUTOU Shizuyo (Professor Emeritus, Shujitsu University)

TAKAGI Keizo (Professor Emeritus, Shizuoka Prefectural University)

TAKAHARA Akiko (Professor, Kumamoto University)

TAKAMORI Akinori (Lecturer, Kokugakuin University)

TAKAYAMA Masayuki (Former Professor, Teikyo University)

TAKEDA Tsuneyasu (Lecturer, Kogakkan University)

TAKEMOTO Tadao (Professor Emeritus, Tsukuba University)

TAKUBO Tadae (Professor Emeritus, Kyorin University)

TEI Taikin (Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Metropolitan University)

TOMIOKA Koichiro (Professor, Kanto Gakuin University)

TOMITA Yo (Professor, The Queen’s University Belfast)

TOYOSHIMA Norio (Former Professor, Kyorin University)

UMASA Keiichi (Professor Emeritus, Kyorin University)

UMEHARA Katsuhiko (Former Professor, Akita International University)

UMEZAWA Shouhei (Former Professor, Shobi Gakuen University)

UNAKAMI Tomoaki (Professor, Tokyo Keizai University)

URABE Kenshi (Professor, Nakamura Gakuen University)

USHIO Masato (Lecturer, Tokai University)

YAGI Hidetsugu (Professor, Reitaku University)

YAMASHITA Eiji (Professor Emeritus, Osaka City University)

YANO Yoshiaki (Visiting Professor, Gifu Woman’s University)

YOSHIDA Yorikatsu (Professor Emeritus, Takushoku University)

YOSHIDA Yoshikatsu (Professor, Miyazaki University)

YOSHWARA Tsuneo (Former Professor, Takushoku University)


Supported by

“Academics’ Alliance for Correcting Groundless Criticisms of Japan” (AACGCJ)

President: TANAKA Hidemichi, Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)


Our Partners