National / Politics

Japanese mayor calls off U.S. trip over wartime sex-slave defense

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) leader Toru Hashimoto announced Tuesday evening that he is canceling the trip to San Francisco and New York he planned for next month.

Hashimoto cited the continued anger over his comment that Japan’s wartime sexual servitude system was necessary at the time and his suggestion that the U.S. military in Okinawa should make more use of sex establishments.

“After listening to the opinions of those in the municipal assembly and others, I’ve directed that steps be taken toward cancellation of the trip, as there’s no merit to going,” Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka.

The move had long been expected as the increasingly isolated mayor faced continued anger, ridicule and criticism in and out of Japan, especially in the United States.

Through a spokesman, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said he was offended and outraged by Hashimoto’s comments, and Emily Murase, executive director of San Francisco’s Department of the Status of Women, condemned Hashimoto’s comments and said his visit to the city would be a problem.

Worried he would be greeted by protesters and concerned the visit would negatively impact Japan-U.S. relations, Diet members from Nippon Ishin and the Liberal Democratic Party put intense pressure on Hashimoto and his advisors to at least postpone the trip until after the upcoming Upper House election.

In the Osaka Municipal Assembly, Hashimoto faced tough questions last week from members of his own party and the opposition about what he would do in the U.S. if the mayors of San Francisco and New York refused to meet him.

Many warned his trip was nothing more than a junket that would only inflame American, and international, public opinion and further damage the reputation of both Osaka and Japan.

Last week, Hashimoto said he would take into consideration the reaction of his Monday appearance in front of the international media before making a final decision on whether to cancel or go ahead with the trip. That reaction seems to have been far more negative than he and his advisors had hoped for, despite an apology to the American public for his Okinawa remarks and an admission they were inappropriate.

“The trip is canceled. It’s too bad that I wasn’t good at getting my thoughts across. But going would have created a burden on the places I’d planned to visit,” Hashimoto said Tuesday.

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