OSAKA – Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto prevailed over his foes in the municipal assembly Thursday night when two condemnation motions against his remarks justifying Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system and urging U.S. forces in Okinawa to use sex establishments were voted down.
Hashimoto faced strong calls for a censure motion late Wednesday and Thursday from members of the Liberal Democratic Party. Even New Komeito ranks wanted him formally punished, as did some in his own local group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka). But two resolutions, one with “censure” in the title and the other without, failed to obtain majority approval.
Earlier Thursday, Hashimoto had threatened to resign and schedule a mayoral poll for July 21, the same day as the Upper House election, if a censure motion was passed. He made the move under the assumption that opposition parties wouldn’t be able to find a credible candidate to run against him in the two months until the Upper House race.
Hashimoto’s threat of a double election apparently worked in his favor. New Komeito, the second-largest force in the assembly after Osaka Ishin, decided to veto the censure motion being planned by other parties, making its passage unlikely.
The motion would have done further political damage to the mayor and Nippon Ishin, which have seen their popularity rates plummet over the past few months, especially after Hashimoto caused an international uproar by trying to justify Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves.
Hashimoto has faced a barrage of criticism since March 13, when he said the wartime comfort women system, in which up to 200,000 women and girls across Asia provided sex for Japanese soldiers, was necessary at the time, and his admitting that he told the U.S. Marines in Okinawa they should consider resorting to sex establishments to curb their sexual energies and reduce problems in the prefecture.
Over the past two weeks, opposition parties in the Osaka assembly, angry at Hashimoto’s comments but also concerned about damaged relations with the central government and embarrassed by the international media attention on Osaka, had called on him to retract his remarks, especially those dealing with the comfort women issue.
He has admitted his remarks concerning Okinawa were inappropriate, and he offered a public apology for them Monday in front of the international media in Tokyo. But he has refused to formally withdraw his comments about the comfort women system, and has created further anger abroad and major headaches for his political allies, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
While Nippon Ishin is officially in the opposition, Abe and Hashimoto are close philosophically, and the prime minister had been counting on Nippon Ishin’s support in the Diet after the Upper House election to help realize his goal of amending the Constitution.
But in Osaka, Hashimoto’s relationship with the LDP had been strained long before his recent comments. The LDP and the Japanese Communist Party backed Hashimoto’s opponent in the last mayoral election.
Several female members in the assembly had demanded a censure motion. Other opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan and the JCP, also supported such a motion.
Information from Kyodo added