National / Politics

Hashimoto looks to deflect sex slave blame

Besieged mayor blasts press, says other armies also abused females

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Japan’s wartime “comfort women” military brothel system can never be “condoned” or “justified” but the world should also address similar human rights violations against females in other conflict zones, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto argued Monday in front of foreign reporters.

Hashimoto, co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), held the press conference to salvage his and his party’s fortunes amid the firestorm he sparked with his earlier remarks that the comfort women system was “necessary” during the war, using the Japanese euphemism for the system of sexual servitude involving women and girls forced to work in military brothels.

“I never condoned the use of comfort women. I place the greatest importance on the dignity of the human rights of women,” Hashimoto said in a marathon speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Hashimoto blamed the media for using only excerpts of his remarks at a daily press briefing earlier this month and taking his words out of context when they issued reports worldwide that “resulted in misunderstanding of the remarks,” something he called “extremely regrettable.”

Facing a 300-plus-strong foreign, domestic and freelance journalist contingent, Hashimoto did not apologize for his earlier remarks that the “comfort women (system) was necessary in order to provide relaxation for those brave soldiers who had been in the line of fire.”

He insisted he didn’t mean to say that he considered it necessary for the armed forces to use women, but that the forces believed this was necessary.

Hashimoto meanwhile admitted the Imperial Japanese Army and administrative authorities had a “certain involvement” in running the wartime “comfort stations” in the 1930s and ’40s.

He also said the army and government should be held responsible for the misery suffered by the females forced to provide sex at the brothels.

Given the harsh conditions there and lack of freedom, media and scholars have described the victims as sex slaves.

Hashimoto argued the world should not single out just Japan or associate only this country with the simple shorthand that it exploited “sex slaves.”

Females were sexually violated during World War II by U.S., British, French, German and Soviet soldiers, including women serving in “private-sector brothels,” where many females were presumably abductees or human trafficking victims, Hashimoto argued.

Hashimoto appeared to be trying to deflect the harsh global spotlight cast on Japan’s comfort women system by insisting the forces of other parts of the world also engaged in sex-related crimes and used brothels.

Scholars say, for example, that Nazi Germany had a similar brothel system during the war, and many U.S. soldiers used brothels prepared by the Japanese government specifically for the Allied Occupation forces.

“Japan’s system was bad. But use of private (brothels) was similarly bad, because in such private-sector facilities, too, human trafficking (was) taking place,” Hashimoto claimed.

Many right-leaning Japanese politicians and scholars often try to play down the culpability of the Imperial army and the government in running the comfort stations, arguing that private brokers were the ones who “recruited” the females via various ways, including human trafficking and possibly kidnapping.

But Hashimoto, apparently trying to distance himself from them, repeatedly argued Japan should issue a straightforward apology for the misery of the comfort women now, saying the Japanese army and government “did (get) involved” in running and managing brothels.

Hashimoto also retracted and apologized for his earlier recommendation that U.S. service members in Okinawa make use of sex establishments to prevent sexual crimes in the prefecture.

“I understand that my remark could be construed as an insult to the U.S. forces and to the American people, and therefore was inappropriate,” he said. Whether Monday’s briefing helps reboot the popularity of Hashimoto and his party remains uncertain.

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