On this day in history, the mayor of the Japanese city of Osaka found himself in hot water after opining that women forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese Army during World War II were “necessary” to help alleviate stress for soldiers at war.
While acknowledging that some 200,000 women, rounded up from across Asia, had been acting “against their will,” he brought up the hazardous circumstances soldiers face, saying “If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that.”
…Except maybe the women….
Most of the so-called comfort women were Koreans who were taken from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. Other comfort women included Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, Indonesians and Dutch. A majority of them were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at front-line brothels across Asia.
Hashimoto, who is co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, exacerbated the controversy by adding that he had suggested to a U.S. military commander in Okinawa earlier in that same month that U.S. servicemen should use legal services in Japan’s sex industry to release their sexual energy.
On May 14, 2013, responding to criticism, Hashimoto dug himself in deeper, issuing tweets that said (a) it has not been proven the women were “forced” into prostitution, and (b) managing soldiers’ sex drive is a “high-priority issue of the military of any country in any age.”
However, Hashimoto is wrong that there is no proof (not even counting the testimony of survivors). A number of regulations have been found written by the Imperial Japanese Army pertaining to the comfort women system. According to Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Professor of Japanese History, official military documents exist substantiating the creation and regulation of comfort stations. Rules promulgated by the Imperial Japanese Army denied the women the freedom to leave the stations. Moreover, if they refused to have sex with troops, the soldiers or brothel operators could employ violence against them.
As Professor Yoshimi argues:
Rather than obscuring the facts, the Japanese government needs to straightforwardly recognize them, apologize to the victims, offer compensation, teach the next generation the truth through history textbooks and other means, and officially dispute in the name of the government any statements that refute the government’s responsibility. If the Japanese government were to take these steps from here on out and overcome the country’s past, then I believe it would become a new source of pride for the Japanese people.”