OSAKA – International condemnation of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s comment that the wartime sex slavery system was necessary continued Thursday, with the United States calling the mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader’s remarks outrageous and offensive.
Meanwhile, the city of Osaka announced Hashimoto would meet with two Korean former “comfort women” next week in a bid to defuse the situation.
Next month, Hashimoto plans to travel to San Francisco, where he is scheduled to meet with Edwin Lee, the city’s first Asian-American mayor and the former director of its human rights commission. After that, Hashimoto plans to visit New York to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But a U.S. official in Japan hinted Hashimoto could find himself an unwanted guest.
“As the U.S. has previously stated, what happened in that era to these women who were trafficked for sexual purposes is deplorable, and a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions,” the official said. “We understand Hashimoto is planning to travel to the U.S. We are not sure that anybody will want to meet him.”
Hashimoto will have a public meeting with the two former sex slaves on May 24 at City Hall.
The event was hastily arranged under tremendous pressure by members of Hashimoto’s own party and others in City Hall out of fear the controversy is damaging Osaka’s domestic and international reputation.
At the national political level, the fallout is affecting Nippon Ishin’s relations with key ally Your Party, which has been scrambling to reassure voters that its views on history, at least, are different from Hashimoto’s.
Your Party was planning to cooperate with Nippon Ishin in the upcoming Upper House election.
On Wednesday evening, however, Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe told reporters his party might end its election cooperation agreement.
“If Hashimoto’s historical views are the same views as his party, we’ll review our relationship,” Watanabe said.
New Komeito, which cooperates with Hashimoto’s local group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), in the municipal assembly, where they form the ruling coalition, is also furious.
New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, in his email magazine Wednesday, called Nippon Ishin, with its coleaders Hashimoto and Shintaro Ishihara, who believe the sex slave system was necessary, a “reckless political party.”
“The good sense of the voters will flatly reject a party with these kinds of leaders,” he said.
As criticism continues, Hashimoto went on television Thursday to say it was inappropriate that he suggested the U.S. military in Okinawa should make more use of the legal sex industry as a way to curb servicemen’s sexual impulses.
“My way of expressing myself was poor. I talked about legal establishments, which didn’t mean I was promoting prostitution,” he said. “My understanding of America’s sex industry culture was insufficient. In America, if you say ‘sex industry,’ people immediately think of prostitution. . . . What I wanted to say was that I wanted to control sex crimes in Okinawa with a real argument,” he said, adding that he lacked “international awareness.”
But he stuck to his basic stance that the comfort women system had been necessary during the war and said international debate on the issue is important.
“If you get angry at the opposite reactions and don’t proclaim your views, then you can’t connect with people around the world,” Hashimoto said.
He told reporters Thursday evening he agrees with the Nippon Ishin Diet group that his comments regarding sex establishments in Okinawa were inappropriate. However, he also urged the U.S. to think about not just the human rights of the comfort women, but also the rights of people living near U.S. bases in the prefecture.
He also admitted his remarks would likely negatively affect his U.S. trip in June and some Americans may choose not to meet him. But he added that if U.S. human rights groups ask to meet him and discuss his comments, he would.