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The main question: Why did Hashimoto open his mouth?

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

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.

  • Jaycasey

    Hashimoto’s “logic” concerning human rights is certainly strange indeed. He has the audacity to criticize America for trampling on Okinawan human rights (while defending Japan) and at the same time he is advising the US military to make use of Okinawan prostitutes. Very bizarre man – and Ishikawa is worse.

  • Tomoki Kato

    >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.

    Really? To me (though I’m not one of his ardent supporters) it’s pretty clear that “Hashimoto sincerely believed these issues needed to be aired now” as you wrote in the article.

  • Tomoki Kato

    I’m not a supporter of Hashimoto, but to me it’s pretty clear that “Hashimoto sincerely believed these issues needed to be aired now” as you mentioned first in the article.

    But you might be still misunderstanding what “these issues” that Hashimoto sincerely believes to be aired are (hopefully not). So let me clarify. He’s not saying that systems like Japan’s comfort women are justifiable, but that they were considered necessary and widely used by many countries in the past. He stresses that Japan should sincerely look at and apologize for the violations of women’s rights at that time. but that other countries having similar systems should also look back their past before blaming Japan.

  • Tomoki Kato

    It’s really a pity that through misunderstanding and wrong translation, many people can’t get his real comments and views. He never justified violation of women’s rights during a war, whenever or wherever it happened and whoever is involved (Japan or other countries). I hope he makes an arrangement to (correctly) translate his tweets into English and make them readable by non-Japanese as well.

  • Tomoki Kato

    I’m not a supporter of Hashimoto, but to me it’s pretty clear that “Hashimoto sincerely believed these issues needed to be aired now” as you mentioned first in the article.

    But you might be still misunderstanding what “these issues” that Hashimoto sincerely believes to be aired are (hopefully not). So let me clarify. He’s not saying that systems like Japan’s comfort women are justifiable, but that they were considered necessary and widely used by many countries in the past. He stresses that Japan should sincerely look at and apologize for the violations of women’s rights at that time, but that other countries having similar systems should also look back on their past before blaming Japan.

  • Tomoki Kato

    It’s really a pity that through misunderstanding and wrong translation, non-Japanese can’t get to Hashimoto’s real comments and views. In his comments in Twitter and other media, he did NOT justify violation of women’s rights during a war, whenever and wherever it happens and whoever is involved (Japan or other countries). He clearly says that systems like Japan’s comfort women were widely used in many countries in the past but can’t be justified. I really hope he (correctly) translates his tweets into English so they are readable to non-Japanese as well.

  • Tom

    If American Military are misbehaving why can’t they be tried in the regular Civilian courts just like they would be here by LEO near a Base in the States?

  • gnirol

    So his insistence that Osaka govt officials not have tattoos anywhere on their bodies makes a shred more sense than this more recent offensive, “I understand human psychology better than anyone else” statement? He, like so many far right politicians around the world, just enjoys denigrating people and does it every chance he gets, for reasons only he might imagine. He managed with his recent statement to insult both men and women. That takes some doing. There are just about zero human beings that don’t fit into one of those two categories. Which is just about where his political support should be. Between Mr. Ishihara’s trapping former PM Noda into the totally unnecessary and dangerous purchase of the Senkaku Is. in order to drum up publicity and a fake aura of leadership for himself before the Lower House elections, and Gov. Hashimoto’s unacceptable statements about people in general, I sincerely wish that they and their party fade into oblivion, the sooner the better.

  • KenjiAd

    “Why did Hashimoto open his mouth?”

    Because he overestimated his ability to a) first make a shocking remark to draw attention and b) then spin it to make himself look like a straight-talking iconoclast. This is the tactics that he has been using quite successfully since his time as a TV entertainer.

    His Twitter comments, for example, contain many incidences of name-calling diatribe, particularly against university professors and TV commentators. Although he makes it as if these are spontaneous outburst, in fact they are carefully calculated efforts. By presenting himself as an enemy of these elite people, he has been nurturing his image as a leader of commoners (imagine Sarah Palin here).

    This time, however, perhaps because of his arrogant over-confidence, he went too far on his comment. How people are seeing his true color – a pathetic coward who can’t even admit what he said is wrong, and instead is trying to blame others.

    • zer0_0zor0

      Good points.
      There are parallels between the so-called “Restoration Party” and the so-called “Tea Party” in the USA.

  • Gumpchun

    This is profoundly disappointing. As a person who loves Japan and wants to see her become a powerful, respected and positive force in Asia and the world, these kind of insular, selfish and arrogant positions show a profound lack of morality and ethical growth within a large part of the Japanese body politic and perhaps Japanese society itself. I was very disturbed to see Shintaro Ishihara defending this. Only a people who have failed to face the truth could even consider such comments and only people totally lacking empathy could conceive of the value of forcing women to be sex slaves.

    One Chinese blogger made the shocking statement that Hashimoto’s wife should be forced to be a comfort woman. This brutal comment sadly goes to the heart of this issue: we must consider all people in the world as part of us, part of our family, the family of mankind. So when one woman or man is abused, victimized and suffers anywhere, it is like a part of our family is suffering. So Hashimoto should think: what if my daughter or wife were forced to be a comfort woman? How would I feel? That is how the Mayor should feel toward all women: Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, whoever. They are all his sisters, and daughters, and grandmothers. Then he would never dream of saying such things.

    This connects to another story that really bothered me. I have a good friend who is Korean-Japanese, who refuses to use a Japanese name, and keeps their original Korean name. They told me that when they tried to get an apartment in Japan, they were turned down over 40 times — because they were Korean. The apartments were available, their financials status was good, but they were discriminated against, by SO many Japanese people, today. In 2013!!

    This shows that there is a profound sense within large parts of Japanese society of being apart from other people, and above them in real ways, and thus needing to keep other cultures or people — even those who speak perfect Japanese and have a proper cultures — at arms length and apart.

    This is tragic, and a shame for all humanity, not just Japan. People everywhere need to see how a people can change from hostile and destructive towards others, as Japan and Germany were in World War II, toward cosmopolitan, decent and profoundly respectful and loving of other people. Germany has gone a long way towards doing this, by facing their grandfather’s massive crimes honestly and completely. As a result, their neighbors today see a modern and decent Germany who care about morality and ethics above all things. No politician or serious person in German would speak like Hashimoto, German society would vilify them.

    Many individual Japanese have made these positive changes in their hearts. I know so many who are ashamed of the past and apologize deeply. They are truly great and I know this is a Japanese trait. But Japan as a society still has not made those steps. What they do apologize for and admit to is grudging, and disputed by dangerous people like Hashimoto and Ishihara. Visits to Yasukuni by the government ministers are sad and unnecessary. These psychological failures to be truly and painfully honest and face the past are a burden to young people in Japan, and to its future.

    America has admitted its shame and disgrace in treatment of slavery, black Americans, native Americans and the imprisonment of Japanese citizens in World War II. Any politicians or pundit, right or left, who espoused or defended these parts of our past would destroy their career instantly and be driven off the political scene, by both parties. We still have to do much to improve. But I would hope that Japan could show the world something that would be the greatest achievement: as a total society, to face the past, confront the elder generations patiently but firmly, and say no more excusing past crime, no more discrimination, no more lack of empathy for other peoples.

    I profoundly respect Japan, I revere its moral conscience and sense of right and wrong, and its love future generations. and I l know you can do it. There would be no greater gift you could give the children of Japan, than to sit down and tell them honestly: our nation has done evil in the past, and been cruel and abusive to other nations and to women. And these things were done by the older generations. They were wrong, profoundly wrong. And it is so important that we give to you, the future generations, the sense that we realized our crime, faced it, and that we need the young generation to remove the thoughtlessness and arrogance and cruelty of people like Hashimoto and Ishihara by rejecting excuses for the past, and changing our hearts forever.

    I love Japan, I know you can do it.

  • XeonForge

    I say let him keep talking as sooner or later he is going to become a liability. Furthermore Hisomoto’s own supporters are already having second thoughts and starting to distance themselves. The last thing Japan needs right now is a loose cannon who is only going to worsen Japan’s already tarnished image. Isn’t Japan trying to win a 2020 Olympic bid? Not going to happen making stupid comments like this. Furthermore Hashimoto seems to know very little about the US doesn’t he.

    The Uniform Code of Military Justice bans sexual intercourse in exchange for money. If anyone tried that crap in the US they would be fighting for their political lives. This is a supreme insult and will no doubt damage US Japanese relations. In addition to his Comfort Women remarks which are so outrageous they are almost comical in nature. When is Japan going to stop living in the past, taking some responsibility and joining the rest of the civilized world.

  • John Markus

    The essence of what Hashimoto said in regards of Okinawa is this:

    There are repeated incidents of US military personnel raping Japanese women and school girls. If they cannot control themselves, they should choose lesser evil between raping civilians or using fuzoku (the concept of fuzoku does not exist in the US; it is often mistranslated as prostitutes, however there are fuzoku services that does not involve sexual intercourse (sexual intercourse in this manner is illegal in Japan)) to relieve excessive sexual energies.

    The current US military policy in Japan is “don’t rape civilians”, and “don’t use fuzoku”, and it just is not working. If you want to protect women’s right, in Okinawa, which is more appropriate ? “choosing lesser evil for controlled release of sexual energy” or “enforce non-working policies that result in rape of women” ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000580228225 Brian Prager

    I don’t know why people would say such vulgar things as “his wife should become a comfort woman” except out of anger with the extremity of Hashimoto’s stupidity and lack of human or even animal empathy. Clearly it is Hashimoto himself who should be shipped off to be a “Comfort Man” until he is raped to death, just as Japanese soldiers did to hundreds of thousands of women during its15-year war against Asia. What is missing from the discussion is that Hashimoto is a product of the political culture of the Japanese right, which is itself a product of the anti-democratic “education” and media practices of Japan. Indeed, people have been saying that his is a view that is common among the LDP politicians of the Abe administration and that his error was in saying them aloud in public. If the Japanese people want change, then it is their responsibility to get into the streets and organize against LDP and JRP. If the rapes and sexualized violence in Okinawa are to stop, there is only one solution: U.S. military bases OUT! As long as Okinawa is treated as less than equally human occupied island of Japan and the U.S.. military, you get more criminal violence, and more Hashimotos.

  • http://twitter.com/miyukikay Miyuki Kay

    Answer is simple. Hashimoto was set up by Asahi Shimbun having a lawsuit with him.
    He said USE FUZOKUGYO, NOT PROSTITUTES. Japanese law system defines tens of business as FUZOKUGYO. Kyabakura, Imekura and some Maid Cafes and suchlike, many foreigners and tourists want to go to at Roppongi, Kabukicho and Akihabara, are also categorized as FUZOKUGYO. They offer a lot of services EXCEPT SEX. I acknowledge there are some illegal actions behind closed doors as many as in US. But Hashimoto is not only politician and also attorney. If he had said using prostitutes in front of reporters, so Japanese law system bans prostitution, it means his suicide as not only an politician but also a lawyer.
    I never agree Hashimoto’s suggestion. Because POTENTIAL CRIMINALS in US forces NEVER STOP VIOLENCE AND RAPE to Okinawa people, if they use FUZOKUGYO.