A ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker retracted his comment Thursday that so-called comfort women were prostitutes after the remarks drew a swift rebuke from South Korea.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, in a meeting with 10 other LDP lawmakers, had said that the women “were prostitutes by occupation” and that people have been “heavily misled by propaganda work treating them as if they were victims.”
Noting it was only after World War II that prostitution became an illegal occupation, he said, “Because (comfort women) are hesitant (to say) they were prostitutes, I suspect wrong perceptions may have been spread in Japan and South Korea.”
Sakurada later said, “It (the remark) was misleading. I sincerely apologize to those who were being troubled.”
Comfort women refers to girls and women forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
The remarks by Sakurada, a former senior vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, were slammed by South Korea’s Foreign Ministry as “nonsensical and ignorant.”
The ministry’s spokesman, Cho June-hyuck, accused the Japanese politician of lacking a sense of shame with regard to “an act of sexual violence carried out extensively against women forcibly taken in the process of Japan’s past imperialistic expansion.”
“The common recognition accepted by the international community is the comfort women issue is a serious violation of human rights,” Cho added.
He said it was important for Japan to create an environment in which a landmark agreement struck with South Korea in late December to finally resolve the comfort women issue could be fully implemented without the victims being caused more pain.
In the agreement, Japan recognized the wartime involvement of Japanese military authorities and said it was “painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.” It also vowed to “take measures to heal psychological wounds of all former comfort women through its budget.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said later on Thursday that LDP lawmakers should comment based on government and party policy, an apparent indirect criticism of Sakurada’s remarks.
A Japanese government source said they did not believe Sakurada’s remarks will affect bilateral relations, which have shown signs of improvement.
“Each side will implement what was decided in the Japan-South Korea agreement,” the source said.