Remarks by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, on Japan’s wartime military sex slave system and his call for the “greater use of adult entertainment shops” (fuzoku) by U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa have once again raised serious questions about his nationalistic views and his understanding of human rights. His statements, which have provoked an outcry in Asian countries that suffered from Japan’s militarism as well as disdain in Washington, threaten to undermine international trust in Japan and have dealt another blow to already strained ties with China and South Korea.
On Monday, Mr. Hashimoto told reporters that the sex slave system was necessary to maintain discipline in the Imperial Japanese armed forces and stressed that there was no proof that the Japanese state kidnapped women and forced them to become sex slaves, aka “comfort women.” This statement flies in the face of the indisputable fact that the most fundamental human rights of tens of thousands of Asian women were violated by the Japanese military.
Mr. Hashimoto also revealed that during his Golden Week visit to Okinawa he had recommended to a U.S. Marine Corps commander at Air Station Futenma that U.S. Marines in Okinawa use local sex shops more often. His “logic” is that frontline soldiers and young servicemen stationed abroad — such as Imperial soldiers during Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s — need women’s sexual services for rest and relaxation so discipline can be maintained. He clearly believes that the war effort justified the subjugation of women as sex slaves. This view of women being first and foremost sex objects for men not only rubs salt in the wounds of former sex slaves but is an insult to the dignity of all women.
Making matters worse, former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party together with Mr. Hashimoto, supported his views by saying, “Any military is associated with prostitution. It is a principle of history and by no means preferable. But Hashimoto is not saying anything wrong, basically.”
It is reprehensible for Mr. Hashimoto to try to minimize Japan’s responsibility for its wartime military sex slave system by questioning whether the Japanese state was actively involved in the abduction of the women who were used as sex slaves. In doing so he ignores the statements of a number of former sex slaves, who said that they were forcibly taken away by Japanese soldiers. The critical point is that the Japanese military was involved in setting up and managing comfort stations, and transporting comfort women, as stated in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
Mr. Hashimoto’s remarks should not be regarded as an isolated incident. They come amid a nationalistic political environment created by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who appears to be trying to weaken the 1993 Kono statement and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s Aug. 15, 1995, statement, in which he apologized to Asian countries for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression” that caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to their people. Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Ms. Sanae Takaichi said that she cannot wholeheartedly accept the Murayama statement.
Mr. Abe and Mr. Hashimoto are intent on weakening Article 96 of the Constitution, which is designed to prevent imprudent revisions of the Constitution by requiring the approval of two-thirds of all Diet members in both houses before a referendum can be held. They should realize that their nationalistic agenda and moves to weaken constitutional democracy will only serve to undermine international trust in Japan and inflame regional tensions.