An outspoken nationalist mayor in Japan has sparked a fury over his suggestion that the Japanese imperial military’s keeping of sex slaves during WWII was a military necessity.
"To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time," Toru Hashimoto, a conservative mayor of Osaka, said on Monday. "For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."
“Comfort women” is a term often used to describe the nearly 200,000 women the Japanese Imperial Army coerced into sex slavery during the war. The bulk of the women came from Korea, China, and the Philippines.
In 1993, the Japanese government issued an apology to its neighbors for its past policy of maintaining sex slaves. Before taking office, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he was considering revising the statement in light of the supposed lack of historical evidence that the women were forced into servitude.
Since taking office the Abe administration has walked back these initial statements, however. Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has told reporters that: “The stance of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue is well known. They have suffered unspeakably painful experiences. The Abe Cabinet has the same sentiments as past Cabinets.”
The Minister of Education has quickly condemned Hashimoto’s remarks. Nonetheless, South Korea quickly decried the remarks with other condemnations likely to follow.
Many people in the region, particularly in China and South Korea, believe that nationalism has been growing in Japan. Last month, an unusually large number of parliamentarians, 168, visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine as did three members of Abe’s cabinet. This was roundly criticized by China and South Korea who promptly withdrew from various diplomatic engagements, including an ASEAN+3 (China, South Korea, and Japan) meeting.
Nevertheless, earlier this week the policy chief of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, Sanae Takaichi, vowed to continue visiting the shrine in the future, referring to it as an “internal affair.” The terminology was important as Japan and China pledged to not interfere in each other’s internal affairs in agreeing to re-establish bilateral relations in the 1970s.
Although Abe did not visit the shrine this time, the Japanese press has speculated he may go later in the year. Moreover, in a speech last month Abe appeared to question whether Imperial Japan’s actions constituted aggression.