Shintaro Ishihara joined the chorus of criticism against fellow Japan Restoration Party co-leader Toru Hashimoto but from a different angle: He said his political partner’s reference to Japan’s wartime aggression displayed his ignorance.
“It was not aggression,” Ishihara, a strident nationalist who has consistently defended Japan’s actions in World War II, told The Asahi Shimbun on May 17. “It's nothing but masochism to define the war as aggression. It's ignorance of history.”
The rift between the two co-leaders over perceptions of history will likely throw the Japan Restoration Party into further turmoil.
Hashimoto, who is also Osaka mayor, sparked an international uproar by saying that “comfort women,” a euphemism for women, mostly Koreans, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, were a necessary part of the war.
He also proposed to a U.S. commander in Okinawa that the U.S. servicemen use legal services in Japan’s sex industry to keep their sexual energy under control.
Some party members are now whispering that Hashimoto, by far the most popular politician in the Japan Restoration Party, should resign as co-leader.
“The Japan Restoration Party is over,” a young party member lamented.
Hashimoto has repeatedly tried to quell the criticism by clarifying his stance on the comfort women issue.
“Japan must accept (what it did during the war) as aggression as a result of its defeat," Hashimoto said. "Japan must reflect on it and apologize.”
But those words upset Ishihara, a former Tokyo governor.
“It is completely different (from my opinion),” Ishihara said. “He should have a correct perspective on history and the world.
“In the modern era, all white people in Europe (colonized other parts of the world). It is wrong if Japanese define their own history in accordance with the set of values determined by the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.”
On May 18, Hashimoto accepted Ishihara’s criticism and said he will soon meet with the co-leader to discuss the issue.
“Ishihara is from a generation who risked their lives in the war,” he told a television program. “There are probably various ways of thinking.”
But Hashimoto did not budge on his aggression statement. “Japan was defeated in war, and my generation, which did not experience war, must accept (what Japan did as aggression).”
Ishihara himself has repeatedly infuriated Japan’s neighbors by denying Japan’s aggression during World War II. He has said that the Korean Peninsula was so divided that it was annexed by Japan, based on the consensus of Koreans, in 1910.
Ishihara initially defended Hashimoto’s remarks on comfort women.
“Military and prostitution are inseparable,” he said May 14. “Basically, what (Hashimoto) said is not that wrong.”
Ishihara’s latest harsh words against Hashimoto came just after Japan Restoration Party member Shingo Nishimura fueled criticism against the party.
“There are still many South Korean prostitutes roaming around Japan,” Nishimura, a Lower House member, said at a meeting of party lawmakers on May 17. “We should say, ‘You must be a South Korean comfort woman’ in Osaka.”
His gaffe stemmed from the controversy over Hashimoto’s comfort women remarks.
“Overseas reports have painted comfort women as sex slaves," Nishimura said at the meeting. "If such a notion gains currency, anti-Japanese rioting could (take place).”
Ichiro Matsui, secretary-general of the Japan Restoration Party, said the party plans to expel Nishimura because his remarks represent an infringement on human rights.
“We are extremely sorry,” Hashimoto said of Nishimura’s comments. “We made a grave error to South Korean people and those who served as comfort women.”
Nishimura has already retracted his statements and submitted his resignation to the party leadership.
The Japan Restoration Party, formed in September, had been seen as a potential force in national politics because of the popularity of Hashimoto and his radical views on changing the way Japan operates.
The party has origins in Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional political party that Hashimoto set up on a key plank of reforming the nation’s centralized administrative system.
The Sunrise Party, led by Ishihara, merged with the Japan Restoration Party ahead of the Lower House election in December.
But the new party has not held in-depth discussions on forming a consensus on perceptions of history.
Under Ishihara’s initiative, the party's platform, adopted in March, includes such expressions as “the occupation-era Constitution that reduced Japan to the subject of isolation and contempt.”
Members of the former Osaka Ishin no Kai opposed, saying their political orientation is different.
The Diet members of the Japan Restoration Party said May 16 that the party’s basic policy is to respect the fundamental human rights of women.
But Hashimoto brushed it aside, saying it was simply words of caution to him.
“The uproar (over Hashimoto’s remarks) has truly harmed Japan’s national interest,” a Japan Restoration Party Diet member said.
Another added, “We would like to submit a recommendation to Hashimoto to resign.”
However, party lawmakers have not openly criticized Hashimoto.
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