Japan's Discomfort Women

How Abe Can Improve Relations with South Korea

South Korean Lee Soon-deok, a so-called comfort woman for Japanese troops during World War II, weeps at a protest, August 8, 2007. Lee Jae-Won / Courtesy Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent electoral victory gave him some degree of a mandate for his economic policies, known as Abenomics. Much less certain is the degree of support for his plans to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants, negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and push through legislation to enable Japan’s military to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Although progress in these areas could strengthen Japan and help rebuild its standing on the world stage, Abe should not neglect the issue of “comfort women,” which plagues Japan’s relations with South Korea.

The two countries have a complicated history. Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910, but the process that led to it began in the late nineteenth century. In Korea, this period is remembered for its brutality, including Japan’s forced cultural assimilation, conscription of laborers, land seizures, removal of historical artifacts, and recruitment and conscription of

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