OSAKA--Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto on May 15 tried to clarify his remarks about front-line brothels for Japanese troops before and during World War II and his proposal for U.S. servicemen to use legal sex services.
Excerpts from his comments to reporters follow:
Question: Ichiro Matsui, secretary-general of the Japan Restoration Party, said it is regrettable if your comments caused misunderstanding. Do you feel the same way?
Answer: It is because media organizations, such as The Asahi Shimbun, reported my remarks under headlines that suggest that I said comfort women are necessary today. I did not misstate. The way media organizations describe my remarks is responsible (for the controversy).
Q: On May 13, you said, “With bullets flying like a rainstorm, soldiers were running, risking their lives. If rest could be provided, anyone can understand that a comfort women system was necessary.” A similar situation can be expected in other regions even now. You say Japan should be allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Is it not possible that Self-Defense Forces members will risk their lives in a rainstorm of bullets if Japan exercises such right in the future?
A: It is wrong. People at the time thought comfort women were necessary, but the awareness of human rights was entirely different. During World War II, the awareness of human rights was entirely different from today.
I said people at the time thought comfort women were necessary. Anyone can understand it.
I have always said such a system cannot be allowed and accepted from the standpoint of human rights today. The situations are entirely different now and then.
During World War II, when there was a lack of respect for human rights, countries around the world did what they should have never done if we look back from now.
Q: We now understand what you mean. But don’t you think that point can be misunderstood if people only listen to your statements on May 13?
A: I do not. It is taken for granted that the system of comfort women cannot be accepted now. Today, it is not necessary, and I said it cannot be accepted.
Many countries were doing what they should have not been doing. But why has only Japan been subjected to special criticism? The issue I raised was that we have to think about that point.
Japan, as a nation defeated in war, must accept how its aggression and colonial policy have been evaluated. There may be different opinions in the Liberal Democratic Party, and there is not yet a consensus in the Japan Restoration Party.
But Japan can never overturn the evaluations of World War II unless it again fights and wins war. Therefore, Japan, as a defeated nation, must accept how its aggression and colonial policy have been evaluated.
But I said Japan must protest if only Japan is unfairly insulted because of factual errors and other reasons. I raised the issue because I think Japanese people must know why only Japan has received special criticism, although other countries had a system (of comfort women) at the time.
The meaning of coercion was discussed based on the Kono statement. Later, the Abe Cabinet in 2007 concluded that there was no coercion in the form of abduction through violence and threat.
Many commentators say it does not matter whether there was coercion or not. The fact that we had the comfort women system itself was wrong.
But Japanese people must be aware that Japan has been internationally criticized on the grounds that coercion was involved.
I have no intention of accepting the comfort women system, and I never think that it is necessary now.
Q: You said Japan should offer kind words to former comfort women. You seemed to avoid using apology. Do you mean there was no violence, threat or abduction involved when those women were taken away?
A: No. I mentioned the issue because how Japan behaves is extremely important when legal responsibility for compensation has been settled.
Japan concluded a number of treaties with Allied countries after World War II. Many countries waived claims for compensation.
We have to be extremely careful when it comes to a legal issue. I well understand this point because I am in charge of a local government.
If one admits responsibility for compensation when responsibility under law is settled, one could face all sorts of claims once again.
It is necessary to offer words such as apology if comfort women lived a life in a situation beyond description. The prime minister apologized when compensation was offered from the Asian Women’s Fund.
But when responsibility for compensation is at issue, politicians cannot easily comment what they think at the moment.
I believe that Japan must discuss the issue with South Korea for a final settlement.
Japan says legal responsibility for compensation to South Korea has been settled under the 1965 treaty on basic relations between the two countries. But South Korea’s supreme court has said it is not sufficient.
Racking their brains, policymakers must draft an agreement and negotiate to bring this issue to a final settlement.
Former comfort women will be hurt if Japan says there is nothing it can do because legal responsibility for compensation has been settled under the 1965 treaty.
Diplomatic wisdom is required because we cannot lightly bring up responsibility for compensation again.
I think Japan and South Korea should come up with an agreement that reflects the stances of both sides.
In that sense, I think apologies must be made to former comfort women from a moral point of view, but legal responsibility is another question.
Q: At the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, you proposed the use of Japan’s sex industry. Wouldn’t a commander misunderstand the Japanese people if he heard such an opinion from someone he is seeing for the first time who is head of a local government and head of a political party?
A: I do not agree. I did not talk about the sex industry alone. I asked them to do something about sex crimes by U.S. servicemen. I made the proposal as one possible measure to deal with the problem in a substantial way, not for the sake of principles.
The proposal was rejected, but do Japanese people think nothing has to be done about sex crimes by U.S. servicemen? Has anyone strongly protested to U.S. soldiers or told them to set themselves straight?
I am sorry to say this to Okinawans, but I hope they will approve the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. But I think Okinawans are fed up with crimes by U.S. service members.
I asked the U.S. military to strictly manage and supervise service members and referred to the sex industry as one example. It may be true that I was the first politician to bring up the topic even as an example. But I made the proposal as a message to the U.S. military to pull itself together.
Q: Was it a wise policy to discuss such an issue with a stranger?
A: Do you mean that I should communicate with the U.S. military over a number of occasions? You may say I should choose my words more carefully. But I think Japanese politicians should tell the U.S. military what they should hear—going as far as I did.
I think Japan must thank the U.S. military for its contribution to Japan’s national security because Japan is protected under the bilateral security alliance. But sex crimes by U.S. servicemen are a particularly sensitive issue to Okinawans and a primary source of their anger.
I asked the U.S. military to think hard about it. Perhaps because my words were not translated well, the commander said service members go barbecuing, bowling or singing karaoke. I said the problem will not be solved by such principles.
I hope that the Defense Department would have provided a better interpreter. What I meant was only the legalized sex industry. It is not equivalent to paying for sex, which is prohibited in Japan.
I asked the U.S. military to think about ways to control service members within the confinement of law.
Q: You will be visiting the United States next month. Will you speak based on the same stance?
A: Whom will I talk with? I will not have such a chance.
Q: But you will probably be asked questions, won’t you?
A: If I am asked, I will say Japan was also wrong (along with other countries).
Given its puritanism and awareness of human rights, the United States takes an official stance that prostitution can never be accepted. But it is nothing but an official stance.
How have U.S. servicemen related with local women (where they fought)? I do not know whether it may be called prostitution, but those women would fall into an unfortunate situation.
Sex in the battlegrounds of World War II is a tragedy of war. It is not that only Japan did something extraordinarily wrong, but many countries also did the same. Other countries must think about what they did in order not to repeat that tragedy, instead of criticizing only Japan. If I were asked, I want to tell American people to think more about it.
It is a tragedy of war and should not be repeated. I have heard from a number of foreigners how the issue is viewed abroad.
Everyone believes that Japan did something terrible during World War II by setting up a special sex slavery system.
They think that they did something wrong during the war, but all other countries actually did the same thing. France and Germany had comfort stations, and Britain and the United States caused suffering to local women (where they fought). One problem is children born between soldiers and those women.
Other countries think what they did was wrong but it was not as bad as what Japan did. A consensus in the world is that Japan did something horrible with an exceptional sex slavery system.
I have argued that it is not true in conversations with foreigners, although the number of such foreigners may be limited.
I said Japan was wrong in setting up the comfort women system and infringing on women’s human rights, but you all did the same thing. I told them to embrace the idea that their countries, too, did what was equally wrong, instead of turning a blind eye to that fact and criticizing only Japan.
I now want to make that point clear. I will talk along that line if I am asked questions in the United States.
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