Anne Frank and the Sushi Test

Recently several books by Anne Frank were vandalized in libraries in Tokyo.  Japanese authorities vow to bring the culprits to justice.  The Israeli ambassador to Japan rushed to assure the world that Israel assumes that the average Japanese does not sympathize with the destroyers.  The ugly word “anti-Semitic” was hardly ever used by anyone who spoke in public about this event.  This raises the question: if this destructive act was not anti-Semitic, what was it?

One must know the twisted history of current grudges in Asia to figure out the likely answer.

There are several high-pressure issues threatening to break into open and violent storms in East Asia in our time.  China has several of its neighboring countries in a rage over China's claims of sovereignty over a large body of water, its islands, and its airspace.  North Korea is building missiles and nuclear weapons.  South Korea and China are complaining loudly about unfinished business with Japan left over from World War II.

Americans might be paying attention to China's no-fly zones and North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling.  But judging by the comments this author has seen in electronic publications on the issue, the old, leftover World War II business doesn't register.  World War II is long over, Americans seem to say; give it a rest.

Americans might not care. But Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese do, each in their own way.

South Korea, especially Prime Minister Guen-hye Park, complains that Japan forced as many as 200,000 young girls, now called "comfort women," to become sex slaves during World War II.  Korea emphasizes this issue because it feels that in the seventy or so years since these events were supposed to have occurred, Japan has not been sufficiently apologetic – not in the same league as Germany has been apologetic about its treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Anyone who has visited Times Square in New York City in the past few months has had the opportunity to see a billboard with a picture of Konrad Adenauer on his knees apologizing to Jews for Nazi maltreatment. That's the kind of atonement South Korea yearns to see from Japan...but doesn't.

Japan never made a full-throated apology.  Many Japanese claim there is no need for an apology because Japan never had a policy of forcing women into prostitution.  They also claim the “proofs” brought forward on this issue are dubious.

After World War II, in 1965, Japan and Korea signed an agreement to settle all material claims remaining from the war.  On August 14, 1991, for the first time, a Korean woman came forward in public to make claims about her status as a comfort woman.  There was a still-controversial apology-like statement issued in 1993 by chief Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono after the testimony of 16 Korean women.

In 1995, Japan set up an "Asian Women’s Fund" designed to pay the Korean government for the alleged sex slaves who worked at Japanese wartime military brothels.  This payment was rejected when some of the women demanded direct compensation instead.

In more recent times, the more Korea asks for formal, official amplification of the Kono statement, the more contemporary Japanese politicians push back.  In 2014, one political party with 60 seats in the Diet wants to reopen the the Kono document, which this party claims is based on "falsifications."

As long as Japan does not apologize, South Korea presses its case with vigor.  PM Park uses just about every meeting with diplomats as an opportunity to tell her side's story.  There are public demonstrations where Koreans do things like step on Japanese flags, pictures of Japanese leaders, and pictures of Anne Frank.  A photo of Korean demonstrators doing just that to pictures of Japanese PM Abe and of Anne Frank was published by a Japanese news agency. 

Anne Frank? you might ask.  What does Anne Frank have to do with this?

A South Korean group called the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK) published “May we speak?”  That document tells the Korean side of the comfort women issue, plus that of some other disputes with Japan.  It includes prominent mention of Germany's apologies compared to Japanese silence.  The authors sent copies to 62 Holocaust Museum directors.

When UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova visited Korea in February 2014, a Korean official asserted that if Anne Frank's diary is registered by the U.N., then “comfort women's suffering records should be the same.”

Although some Koreans are capable of anti-Semitism, in the recent Tokyo incident of anti-Semitism might not be intended.  Anne Frank may simply be an ethnic symbol standing for the world's belated treatment of the Holocaust.  The book perps might just be trying to make the case that the world should equate the treatment of the comfort women with the treatment of Holocaust victims.

That comparison might seem a stretch at first hearing.  Yet similarly mind-bending national mix-ups have dominated Japanese-Korean relations for a long time.  I am particularly fond of an anomaly which I call The Sushi Test.

Militant Koreans are now on the warpath against Japan and the legacy not only of comfort women, but also of what they claim was the destructive period from 1910 to 1945, when Korea was a colony of Japan.  The message is that Japan was and still is bad.

Yet in New York (that I know of) and other parts of the U.S. (I suspect), maybe fifty percent of the Japanese sushi restaurants are owned by Koreans.  (Many of the rest of America's sushi restaurants are owned by Chinese.  The Chinese have their own gripe with World War II-era Japan, when Japan was supposed to have committed the rape of Nanjing – an event that Japan insists is also a fiction.)

If, as official Korea insists, Japan is so remorseless, why do Koreans run so many Japanese-themed sushi restaurants?  You don't see many Jews running German restaurants.  Something doesn't pass the sushi test.

The culprits who damaged Anne Frank's books in Tokyo will soon be found, no doubt.  Meanwhile, the dispute over comfort women will go on.

As a result of Korea's reproaches, Japanese have been redoubling their efforts to find documentation to support their case.  I wonder if they will find documentation of what Japanese soldiers did for comfort in the absence of comfort women.

A blue-ribbon panel of Korean and Chinese scholars has similarly been designated to discover and publish more supporting documentation for their claims, aimed for publication in 2015.  I wonder if they will explain what happened between the end of World War II in 1945 and 46 years later, 1991, when the first public outcry of a comfort woman was made.  What happened to the other 199,999 comfort women, their mothers, their fathers, their siblings, their neighbors, the cops on the beat, the people who work on the trains and buses that would have transported them, officials of their government – including the people who in 1965 negotiated reparations from Japan for war-time damages – that caused all of these people to neither utter one word about the disappeared comfort women...nor to ask about this disappearance?

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