Japan WWII ‘comfort women’ were ‘necessary’ – Hashimoto
[BBC News 14 May 2013 Last updated at 16:21 GMT]
A prominent Japanese politician has described as “necessary” the system by which women were forced to become prostitutes for World War II troops.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said on Monday that the “comfort women” gave Japanese soldiers a chance “to rest”.
On Tuesday, Japanese ministers tried to distance themselves from his remarks.
Some 200,000 women in territories occupied by Japan during WWII are estimated to have been forced to become sex slaves for troops.
Many of the women came from China and South Korea, but also from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Japan’s treatment of its wartime role has been a frequent source of tension with its neighbours, and South Korea expressed “deep disappointment” at Mr Hashimoto’s words.
“There is a worldwide recognition… that the issue of comfort women amounts to a war-time rape committed by Japan during its past imperial period in a serious breach of human rights,” a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman told news agency AFP.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed shock and indignation at the mayor’s comments.
“The conscription of sex slaves was a grave crime committed by the Japanese military,” he said. “We are shocked and indignant at the Japanese politician’s remarks, as they flagrantly challenge historical justice.”
Mr Hashimoto is the co-founder of the nationalist Japanese Restoration Party, which has a small presence in parliament and is not part of the government.
He was the youngest governor in Japanese history before becoming mayor of Osaka, and last year said Japan needed “a dictatorship”.
In his latest comments, quoted by Japanese media, he said: “In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives,”
“If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that.”
He acknowledged that the women had been acting “against their will”. He also claimed that Japan was not the only country to use the system, though it was responsible for its actions.
He said he backed a 1995 statement by Japan’s then-PM Tomiichi Murayama, in which he apologised for war-time actions in Asia.
“It is a result of the tragedy of the war that they became comfort women against their will. The responsibility for the war also lies with Japan. We have to politely offer kind words to [former] comfort women.”
On Tuesday Japan’s Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga declined to comment directly on Mr Hashimoto’s remarks but reiterated the government’s existing stance on comfort women.
He said the government felt “pains towards people who experienced hardships that are beyond description”.
In 1993, Japan issued an apology for the “immeasurable pain and suffering” inflicted on comfort women. In 1995, it also apologised for its war-time aggression.
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura also expressed concerns over Mr Hashimoto’s remarks.
“A series of remarks related to our interpretation of (wartime) history have been already misunderstood,” he told reporters. “In that sense, Mr Hashimoto’s remark came at a bad time.”
Last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angered China and South Korea when he suggested he may no longer stand by the wording of Japan’s 1995 apology, saying the definition of “aggression” was hard to establish.
Japanese ministers later sought to play down his remarks, amid anger across the region.
Japan’s neighbours also objected to visits in April by several cabinet members and 170 MPs to Japan’s Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan’s war dead, including war criminals.
Women Forced Into WWII Brothels Served Necessary Role, Osaka Mayor Says
[New York Times Published: May 13, 2013 By HIROKO TABUCHI]
TOKYO ? The mayor of one of Japan’s largest cities, who is seen by some as a possible future prime minister, drew an outcry on Monday after he said women forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese Army during World War II had served a necessary role in providing relief for war-crazed soldiers.
Toru Hashimoto, the populist mayor of Osaka, also said American soldiers stationed in Okinawa should make more use of the island’s adult entertainment industry, which he said would reduce the incidence of sexual crimes against local women.
Lawmakers and human rights groups swiftly condemned the remarks. So did South Korea, whose citizens made up the bulk of the so-called comfort women who served Japanese soldiers in military brothels.
South Korea’s Yonhap News quoted a senior government official there as saying Mr. Hashimoto’s comments exposed “a serious lack of historical understanding and a lack of respect for human rights.”
The conduct of the Japanese military in Asia before and during World War II remains a highly charged topic between Japan’s neighbors, who say Tokyo has not properly atoned for its history of wartime atrocities, and those, like Mr. Hashimoto, who feel that Japan has been unfairly demonized.
Some historians estimate that 200,000 women were rounded up from across Asia to work as comfort women for the Japanese Army. Other historians put that number in the tens of thousands, and say they served of their own will. Japan formally apologized to the comfort women in 1993.
Mr. Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka on Monday that they had served a useful purpose. “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system,” he said.
When pressed later, he insisted that brothels “were necessary at the time to maintain discipline in the army.” Other countries’ militaries used prostitutes, too, he said, and added that in any case there was no proof that the Japanese authorities had forced women into servitude.
Instead, he put the women’s experiences down to “the tragedy of war,” and said surviving comfort women now deserved kindness from Japan.
Mr. Hashimoto is a co-leader of the Japan Restoration Association, a populist party with 57 lawmakers in Parliament. His comments followed those of a string of Japanese politicians who have recently challenged what they say is a distorted view of Japan’s wartime history. Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed to question whether Japan was the aggressor during the war, saying the definition of “invasion” was relative.
Mr. Abe’s comments heightened fears that he might seek to revise or even repudiate apologies that Japan has made to victims of its wartime conduct. The 1993 apology to comfort women and another in 1995 to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression during the war have been condemned by Japanese ultranationalists.
Mr. Hashimoto’s remarks swiftly drew widespread public rebuke.
“The comfort women system was not necessary,” said Banri Kaieda, president of the opposition Democratic Party. That Japan was the clear aggressor in war “is a fact we must face up to,” he said.
Mr. Hashimoto also said Monday that he had told a senior American military official at the Marine Corps base in Okinawa that United States soldiers should make more use of the local adult entertainment industry to reduce sexual crimes against local women.
“We can’t control the sexual energy of these brave marines,” Mr. Hashimoto said he had told the American officer, whom he did not identify, on a recent visit there. “They must make more use of adult entertainers.”
Early Tuesday, Mr. Hashimoto took to Twitter, on which he has over a million followers, to suggest that the United States was no better than Japan because prostitution is rife around American bases.
He also argued that by banning troops from all forms of adult entertainment in Japan, the United States military was discriminating against women legally working in that business.
In a comment posted on its Web site, the Women’s Action Network, which advocates for women’s rights in Japan, called Mr. Hashimoto’s earlier comments “shocking.”