National

Hashimoto backs embattled NHK head on 'comfort women'

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has expressed support for NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii, who’s under fire for asserting at a recent press conference that the wartime enslavement of women to provide sex for Japanese soldiers was wrong only by today’s standards.

The “comfort women” system, as it is commonly referred to, existed in every country, the co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) said.

“It’s not a problem that the head (of NHK) made such a comment. All countries did similar things and have unfortunate histories regarding war and sex. (Momii’s argument) is sound, and something I’ve been saying for a long time,” Hashimoto told reporters Monday afternoon.

Last May, Hashimoto made headlines around the world when he said Japan’s Asia-wide system of wartime brothels, staffed by thousands of young, mostly Asian females, had been necessary at the time. He also suggested that sexual violence in Okinawa by U.S. Marines could be curbed if they had access to “fuzoku” establishments, a euphemism for paid sex services.

His statements were criticized by the U.S. State Department, South Korea and human rights groups around the world, while the city of San Francisco, which Hashimoto had been scheduled to visit the next month, passed a resolution condemning him.

The mayor ended up canceling his trip. Though he later said his remarks concerning the U.S. Marines were inappropriate, he continues to defend his stance on the comfort women.

Many overseas were worried by the parallels between Hashimoto’s remarks and earlier statements by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was then courting the mayor before the July Upper House election. Hashimoto, critics charged, was merely expressing what Abe and his ruling bloc allies thought, but dared not say out loud.

Facing growing criticism, Momii said Monday his remarks were extremely inappropriate. But as Abe’s reported choice for the NHK post, Momii’s comment only adds to speculation that the prime minister quietly agrees with his — and Hashimoto’s — view.