OSAKA – Since Monday, when news broke that Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Toru Hashimoto said Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system, which forced thousands of young females around Asia into sexual slavery, had been necessary at the time and that U.S. soldiers in Okinawa should use more prostitutes, the one unanswered question has been: Why did he say this?
Despite defending his remarks in hours of media briefings and more than 160 tweets to his more than 1 million followers nationwide, there is no consensus in or out of Osaka on what the motivation behind his remarks might have been.
Public and media speculation has abounded, though. First there is the thought, voiced by his most ardent supporters, that Hashimoto sincerely believed these issues needed to be aired now and that many Japanese in power quietly agree with him.
They say he’s been made a scapegoat for saying out loud what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration and many of his supporters privately think.
Then there’s the theory the remarks were a form of misplaced anger over the lack of Diet action on Nippon Ishin’s key goals.
Decentralization, local government reform, and progress toward ending the current prefectural system in favor of regional blocks, one of the primary reasons Hashimoto created a national political party, have made virtually no progress.
Or, there is a theory floating around Osaka that Hashimoto made the remarks out of a realization his party is extremely unpopular, wracked by internal dissent and increasingly unlikely to achieve its original goals, especially integration of the city and prefecture of Osaka, which Hashimoto has pursued since 2008 when he became Osaka governor, and thus he had nothing to lose.
Perhaps, they conclude, he is tired of being a politician, wants to end his political career to return to the more financially lucrative world of television punditry, and figured the quickest way to do that was to make himself unpopular.
“Whether or not he intended to, the result of his remarks was that he self-destructed,” said Yuji Yoshitomi, an Osaka journalist and author of a book on Hashimoto.
Hashimoto visited Okinawa earlier this month and met with U.S. officials.
His suggestion to use more prostitutes reflects what supporters say is a direct solution to a problem he saw, while critics point to a history of inflammatory and discriminating statements. And then there was the timing of the comments, which came on the same day.
“The two issues became linked and people in and out of Japan wondered if Hashimoto wasn’t advocating a comfort women system for U.S. servicemen in Okinawa,” said one Osaka-based reporter for a major media outlet, speaking anonymously.
Hashimoto has vehemently denied he was advocating a modern-day comfort women system. But his anger at what he perceives to be American hypocrisy on human rights is clear.
In rhetoric that sounded oddly similar to some anti-U.S. base protestors, Hashimoto berated the U.S. for its Okinawa policy on his Twitter account Friday, implying his solution of sex establishments for U.S. soldiers would help solve a human rights problem.
“Due to the behavior of a small number of U.S. soldiers, the human rights of Okinawans are being trampled upon. I recognize America respects human rights. But human rights are universal, and the American people need to pay direct attention to the human rights of the Okinawans,” he said.