The mayor of the Japanese city of Osaka said that “comfort women” forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II were necessary.
TOKYO —An outspoken nationalist mayor said the Japanese military’s forced prostitution of Asian women before and during World War II was necessary to “maintain discipline” in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle.
The comments made Monday are already raising ire in neighboring countries that bore the brunt of Japan’s wartime aggression and have long complained that Japan has failed to fully atone for wartime atrocities.
Toru Hashimoto, the young, brash mayor of Osaka who is co-leader of an emerging conservative political party, told reporters on Monday that there wasn’t clear evidence that the Japanese military had coerced women to become what are euphemistically called “comfort women” before and during World War II.
“To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time,” Hashimoto said. “For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That’s clear to anyone.”
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed disappointment over what it called a senior Japanese official’s serious lack of historical understanding and respect for women’s rights. It asked Japan’s leaders to reflect on their country’s imperial past, including grave human rights violations, and correct anachronistic historical views.
Hashimoto said he recently visited Okinawa in southern Japan and told the U.S. commander there “to make better use of the sex industry.”
Hashimoto’s comments came amid continuing criticism of Abe’s earlier pledges to revise Japan’s past apologies for wartime atrocities. Before he took office in December, Abe had advocated revising a 1993 statement by then Prime Minister Yohei Kono acknowledging and expressing remorse for the suffering caused to the sexual slaves of Japanese troops.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeated the previous government position and said those women went through unbearable pain.
“The stance of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue is well known. They have suffered unspeakably painful experiences. The Abe Cabinet has the same sentiments as past Cabinets,” he said.
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Hashimoto’s remark was unhelpful given the criticism Japan faces from neighboring countries and the U.S. over its interpretation of history.
“A series of remarks related to our interpretation of (wartime) history have been already misunderstood. In that sense, Mr. Hashimoto’s remark came at a bad time,” Shimomura told reporters. “I wonder if there is any positive meaning to intentionally make such remarks at this particular moment.”
Hashimoto, 43, is co-head of the newly formed Japan Restoration Party with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who is a strident nationalist.
Sakihito Ozawa, the party’s parliamentary affairs chairman, said he believed Hashimoto’s remarks reflected his personal views, but he expressed concerns about possible repercussions.
“We should ask his real intentions and stop this at some point,” he said.