Toru Hashimoto, the Nationalist Mayor of Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, has made an impressive amount of international headlines in his relatively short political career. With his (relatively) hard line military stance and forthright campaigning for sea change in Japanese politics, he has even been touted as a ‘Japanese Obama. That is until he declared that Japan needed a ‘dictator.’ Voicing some frankly draw droopingly backward colonialist opinions this week, Hashimoto seems to have cemented his reputation as yet another toxic element in Japan’s political system.
Speaking on Monday, in the wake of previous speculation that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was contemplating revising former leader Yohei Kono’s 1993 apology to victims of sex slavery by Japanese troops in World War II, Hashimoto suggested that there was no clear evidence that the Japanese had ever forced women into becoming sex workers for its troops.
Decades after the abatement of Japan’s colonial expansion, there are thousands of so-called “comfort women” across Asia, still living and dying with the knowledge that to this day, Japan has never fully accepted its culpability nor fully compensated for the suffering which it inflicted on them during the war. The issue is linked to wider controversy over Japan’s failure to truly apologise for its war crimes, which to this day continues to stoke international hostility.
Hashimoto suggested that there was no clear evidence that the Japanese had ever forced women into becoming sex workers for its troops
Abe’s cabinet is thought to have put plans to amend the apology on the backburner to appease international anxieties over Japan’s nationalist agenda, and top party official were swift to attack Hashiomoto. According to chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, “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.”
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly across the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to work in military brothels, with up to 75% dying in captivity. Those that survived were often subject to social isolation from their own communities in the post war years, on top of suffering intense psychological and physical trauma.
Hashimoto’s comments come at a time on increased tension in East Asia, and were roundly condemned as “unhelpful” at best
Bafflingly, Hashimoto then went on to attempt justify the practice, stating that “To maintain discipline in the military it must have been necessary at that time…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.”
Hashimoto’s comments come at a time of increased tension in East Asia, and were roundly condemned as “unhelpful” at best. According to one South Korean government official, the statement was ” supportive of crimes against humanity and revealed a serious lack of a historical understanding and respect for women’s rights.”