Japanese mayor apologises for saying US troops should use sex industry
[guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 May 2013 12.28 BST]
But Toru Hashimoto defends Japan’s role in recruitment of ‘comfort women’ to work in brothels during second world war
Toru Hashimoto, the controversial mayor of Osaka, has apologised for suggesting that US troops in Japan should visit commercial sex establishments as a way of reducing the number of sexual assaults.
But he defended his claim that Japan’s military government played no direct part in recruiting tens of thousands of Asian women to work in frontline brothels before and during the second world war.
Hashimoto, who is also co-leader of the rightwing Japan Restoration party, drew widespread condemnation earlier this month when he said the military’s use of sex slaves in the 1930s and 40s had been necessary to maintain discipline among Japanese troops fighting in China and on the Korean peninsula.
On Monday, the former lawyer, until recently a rising star of Japanese politics , claimed his comments about US troops on Okinawa had been misreported.
More than half of the 48,000 American troops in Japan are based on the island, where rapes and other crimes by servicemen have long been a source of resentment among residents.
“My real intention was to prevent a mere handful of US soldiers from committing crimes and strengthen the Japan-US alliance and the relations of trust between the two nations,” Hashimoto told a packed press conference in Tokyo.
He said he had suggested that troops use the “legally accepted adult entertainment industry” out of a “sense of crisis” over sexual assaults by US servicemen.
“I understand that my remark could be construed as an insult to the US forces and to the American people and was inappropriate. I retract this remark and express an apology.”
Hashimoto did not apologise, however, for his remarks about comfort women, the name given to as many as 200,000 mainly Korean and Chinese girls and women forced to have sex with Japanese troops.
Again, he blamed inaccurate reporting, saying that he did not personally believe military brothels were a wartime necessity, but that armies “around the world” had thought they were.
He said the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia also needed to reflect on the sexual abuse of women during the war, but did not offer any evidence that those countries had operated “comfort stations” ? brothels where girls as young as 13 were forced to have sex with as many as 20 soldiers a day – on a similar scale.
“Based on the premise that Japan must remorsefully face its past offences and must never justify the offences, I intended to argue that other nations in the world must not attempt to conclude the matter by blaming only Japan and by associating Japan alone with the simple phrase of ‘sex slaves’ or ‘sex slavery’,” Hashimoto said.
While he believes Japan should apologise to the surviving comfort women, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, he said there was no evidence that the Japanese state had been directly involved in trafficking them. Instead, he claimed private brokers had recruited the women, some of whom were taken to the brothels in Japanese military vehicles and ships.
“I am not suggesting that Japan should evade responsibility … what I’m focusing on is historical fact,” he said. “The most important aspect is whether it was the will of the state to be involved in a systematic manner.”
Hashimoto conceded that the controversy surrounding his remarks could damage his party’s prospects at upper house elections due in July. A poll in the Nikkei business paper showed support for his Restoration party at just 3%, down six percentage points from last month.