OSAKA--Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, stunned and flustered a U.S. military commander in Okinawa earlier this month with a suggestion that legalized sexual services be used to keep Marines’ sexual appetites under control.
The disclosure came on the evening of May 13, hours after he said “comfort women,” or those forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II, were a necessary part of war.
Hashimoto, also Osaka mayor, told reporters in the city hall that he made the proposal when he visited U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture in early May.
He said the commander “appeared frozen, smiled wryly and said it is banned.” The commander dropped the subject.
Hashimoto told reporters, “The sex industry, if not the comfort women system, is necessary.”
He said he told the commander that “Japan has places where sexual energy can be released within the law. It is impossible to control the sexual energy of hotblooded Marines properly unless such places are officially made use of. Principles aside, I ask you to make good use of such places.”
Hashimoto also told reporters, “Soldiers are put in extreme situations in which they can lose their lives. They are overflowing with energy. We have to think about the way they can let it out somewhere.”
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman called Hashimoto’s suggestion “ridiculous.”
“That goes against every single policy and value that we have,” the spokesman told The Asahi Shimbun on May 13. “We try to have respect for our neighbors, not the thought of looking at prostitution as a way to solve that or any problem.”
In a posting on Twitter on May 14, Hashimoto stood by his comment.
“There is no problem in the U.S. military using Japan’s legalized sex industry,” he said.
In response to criticism from the Pentagon spokesman, Hashimoto said, “The United States is not being truthful. It has consistently denied a licensed prostitution system. But history shows that there was a thriving sex industry around U.S. bases.”
He added, “Rejecting the legalized sex industry in Japan amounts to discrimination against women who voluntarily chose the profession.”
In his tweet, Hashimoto also reiterated his stance on comfort women.
“It is a pity that some women became comfort women against their will. If that is a tragedy of war, war should not be waged,” he said.
But Hashimoto went on to say, “It is a reality that humans, particularly men, need ways to satisfy their sexual desires. Looking at countries around the world, measures for sexual gratification were offered to service members.”
He added, “We reflect on and apologize where we have to. But we take issue with what we are unfairly insulted for. This is what politicians should do.”
Shintaro Ishihara, who leads the Japan Restoration Party with Hashimoto, defended the Osaka mayor's remark on comfort women on May 14.
“Military and prostitution are inseparable. It is something like a principle of history,” Ishihara, a former Tokyo governor, told reporters at the Diet building. “It is never favorable, but basically, what he said is not that wrong.”
Chizuko Ueno, a sociologist at Ritsumeikan University, criticized Hashimoto’s remark to the U.S. military commander, saying she cannot believe it came from someone who is a lawyer and a head of government.
In 1995, a schoolgirl was raped by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa Prefecture. The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command was forced to resign after saying the suspects could have bought a woman with money they spent renting a car to commit the crime.
“A lack of respect for women’s human rights has not changed at all since those days,” Ueno said.
Suzuyo Takazato, co-leader of an Okinawa-based group opposed to U.S. bases and the military, said it was appalling that Hashimoto recommended sexual-oriented businesses as an outlet for sexual gratification of U.S. service members in Okinawa.
“It is the same as the way of thinking of the Imperial Japanese military,” Takazato said.
Harumi Miyagi, an Okinawan researcher on women’s history, said legalized sex businesses were set up around U.S. bases in Okinawa as a way to protect citizens from rapes by U.S. servicemen, which were rampant during the 1950s.
But she said sexual violence against women never declined as a result of the emergence of professional services.
South Korea criticized Hashimoto’s remark on comfort women. Many of those women were from the Korean Peninsula, which Japan colonized from 1910 to 1945.
“It is disappointing because (the remark) defended a crime against humanity and revealed a serious lack of a (correct) understanding of history and respect for human rights,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on May 13. “We again urge Japanese leaders to reflect on past mistakes and correct anachronistic perceptions as well as words and deeds.”
Hashimoto’s views on comfort women were also criticized by experts in Japan.
Bang Chung-ja, co-leader of an Osaka-based citizens group working on the comfort women issue, was angered.
“(Hashimoto’s remark) takes it for granted that women and sex are used in waging war and does not consider women humans,” she said. “That he thinks his remark will go unchallenged is frightening.”
Bang’s group has invited former South Korean comfort women to speak in Japan since 2009. Two are coming to Osaka as early as this month and will likely meet with Hashimoto.
Hashimoto has argued there is no convincing evidence that the Imperial Japanese military forcibly seized and coerced comfort women.
“I expect him to directly listen to former comfort women and face their experiences and thoughts squarely,” Bang said.
Akiko Yamashita, who heads a team on comfort women at Amnesty International Japan, said Hashimoto’s remark is “a torture” for former comfort women, who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Modern historian Ikuhiko Hata, who denies that the Imperial Japanese military took comfort women by force, criticizes Hashimoto’s remark from a different perspective.
Hashimoto on May 13 said the militaries of other countries also had a comfort women system around that time.
Hata said the observation is basically correct, but is not an effective way to justify the practice.
“It is as if a person accused of stealing is rationalizing that other people also stole,” he said.
Hata also said international opinion will not accept Hashimoto’s stance that comfort women were necessary.
Andrew Horvat, director of the Stanford Center in Kyoto, said Hashimoto’s remark is dangerous in view of Japan’s national interest, and that politicians must speak more carefully and strategically.
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The following is the gist of Hashimoto’s comments on comfort women on May 13.
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said, there is not an established definition of aggression among academics. But Japan was defeated in war. We must acknowledge that what Japan did was aggression as a result of that defeat.
It is true that Japan caused great suffering and damage to neighboring countries. Japan must reflect on it and apologize.
But Japan must make its own case when it is unfairly insulted over something contrary to the truth.
Why has only Japan’s comfort women issue become the subject of international discussions?
Labeling Japan as a “rape nation,” the world has accused Japan of abducting women through a nationwide campaign and having them serve as comfort women. On that point, we must point out what is different.
Those who became comfort women against their will are a product of the tragedy of war. Japan bears part of the responsibility for war. We must understand their feelings and make consideration.
In those days, not only Japan but also other countries used a comfort women system for their military.
With bullets flying like a rainstorm, soldiers were running, risking their lives. If rest could be provided to an army of such overwrought warriors, anyone can understand that a comfort women system was necessary.
But Japan is seen as a rape nation because of campaigns by South Korea and other parties. This is the most important point in question.
If evidence is found, we must recognize the claim. But a Cabinet decision made in 2007 (under the Abe Cabinet) says no such evidence has been found. We must make that point clear.
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