OSAKA – Two former South Korean “comfort women” canceled their planned Friday meeting with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Toru Hashimoto, saying through a representative that they did not want to become his political pawns.
Kim Bok Dong, 87, and Kil Won Ok, 85, are currently traveling around Japan and speaking about their experiences as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army. They are due to address a public symposium Saturday in Osaka and had been expected to meet with Hashimoto, the city’s mayor, to call him out over his May 13 remarks that the wartime comfort women system, which was believed started in the early 1930s during Japan’s conquest of China, had been necessary.
But as the domestic and international backlash against Hashimoto escalated, he refused to apologize for his position, even as pressure on him to cancel the meeting from members of his own party grew. On Thursday, he insisted the meeting with Kim and Kil was still on.
“It’s a real shame that I couldn’t meet the former comfort women today. But their feelings are what is most important. The women probably had a lot of things they wanted to say to me, and want to say to Japan,” Hashimoto said.
The mayor was notably more subdued Friday and softer in his choice of words than he has been in recent days, especially in front of numerous South Korean and other overseas media present at his press briefing. But he insisted the problem was one that both Japan and South Korea still had to resolve based on past treaties both had agreed upon.
He added that his remarks on the comfort women do not reflect the official policy of Nippon Ishin, and are his own thoughts.
Around 100 supporters of the comfort women gathered at a rally Friday morning in Osaka’s Nakanoshima Park. A dozen or so rightwingers, including several young women, were seen near City Hall, waving signs saying the comfort women were not forced into prostitution. Police kept the two sides apart.
Members of Nihon Gun Ianfu Mondai Kansai Network (Japanese Military Comfort Women Problem Kansai Network), the nongovernmental organization that brought Kim and Kil to the region, read out two statements, the first from the two women and a second saying the group was not going to engage in a media performance and that it was seeking Hashimoto’s resignation as mayor.
“As two comfort women survivors, and in advance of this summer’s Upper House election in Japan, in order to call for a solution to the comfort women problem, which has once again arisen among Japanese people and in the political world, we’re traveling to Fukuyama (Hiroshima Prefecture), Okinawa, Hiroshima, Okayama, Osaka and Nara to convey the truths of history to Japanese society,” network spokeswoman Pang Chung Ja said on behalf of Kim and Kil.
“We understood that Mayor Hashimoto himself would withdraw and apologize for his comment, and agreed to meethim on the morning of May 24.
“On May 19, we heard clear reports that Nippon Ishin no Kai had agreed not to censure Hashimoto over his comments that the comfort women were necessary. After this, he continued his position of denying (the comfort women) were forced (into prostitution by the government).
“According to the information received from Japanese reporters during our tour, Hashimoto was preparing to use the media for an ‘apology performance.’ We cannot exchange the continued pain of the victims or the facts of history for an ‘apology performance’ by Mayor Hashimoto. It’s not necessary to get trampled again.”
To Hashimoto, the group also had a message: “We are seeking an apology and a retraction of your comments, and we will not approve of the victims being used politically,” said Sumiko Nishimura, also of the network. “The victims are criticizing Hashimoto by asking him how he can say there is no proof when they experienced the comfort women system and firmly assert the past cannot be changed through (his statements).
“There is no other path left for but for you (Hashimoto) to resign,” Nishimura said. During their tour of Japan, Kim and Kil spoke to audiences about the horrors they experienced as young sex slaves in China, serving the Japanese military in Canton, in Kim’s case, and in Harbin, in Kil’s. Though Kim was only 14 and Kil 11, they have testified that they were beaten and made to serve as sex slaves.
“Could Hashimoto force his own daughter to become a sex slave out of necessity? The past cannot be changed by false claims,” Kim said in a rally in Okinawa earlier this week.
Hashimoto meanwhile claimed Friday that he had never said he favored the comfort women system, and that his comments were misreported abroad.
“This is what I wanted to tell the former comfort women today. I, personally, never said we needed the comfort women system and I never said I approved of it. I was talking about it in the context of the time, the Second World War, and the fact that various countries’ armies used women,” he said, repeating what he previously iterated.
Both Japan and South Korea had a responsibility to make clear what happened, Hashimoto said, suggesting a bilateral group of Japanese and South Korean scholars be set up to take testimony and to research the historical archives to clarify what happened.
Yet while Hashimoto will not retract his remarks regarding the comfort women, he said that he did owe the American people an apology for his remark that U.S. military personnel in Okinawa should use more sex establishments as a way of controlling their sexual energy.
“That remark was inappropriate,” he said.