The Japanese government yesterday distanced itself from comments by a prominent politician that the so-called “comfort women” of World War II served a “necessary” role by keeping troops in check.
Outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said soldiers living with the daily threat of death needed some way to let off steam, which was provided by the comfort women system.
Up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were forcibly drafted into brothels catering to the Japanese military in territories occupied by Japan during World War II, according to many mainstream historians.
“When soldiers risk their lives under a hail of bullets, and you want to give them a rest somewhere, it is clear that you need a comfort women system,” Hashimoto said.
South Korea voiced “deep disappointment” over the comments, which risk inflaming Japan’s relationship with neighbors that were victims of brutal expansionism and who claim Tokyo has never faced up to its warmongering past.
“There is worldwide recognition ... that the issue of comfort women amounts to a wartime rape committed by Japan during its past imperial period in a serious breach of human rights,” a Seoul foreign ministry spokesman said.
“Our government again urges Japan’s prominent officials to show regret for atrocities committed during Japan’s imperial period and to correct their anachronistic way of thinking and comments,” he said.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said China was “shocked and strongly infuriated” at the comments.
“Forced conscription of comfort women was a serious crime committed by Japanese militarism during the Second World War and it is also a major human rights issue concerning the dignity of victims,” he said. “How to deal with its past will decide how Japan can embrace the future.”
Hashimoto, who is co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, acknowledged that some women providing sexual services to Japan’s soldiers did so “against their will,” something he attributed to “the tragedy of war.”
However, he said there was no evidence this had been officially sanctioned by the state and that the use of prostitutes by servicemen was not unique to Japan.
“There are many examples” of unacceptable and brutal behavior by soldiers in wartime and “to contain such things, it is a cold fact that a certain system like comfort women was necessary,” Hashimoto said.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, yesterday refused to comment directly on Hashimoto’s remarks.
However, he said: “The government’s position on the comfort women issue is that, as I repeatedly said here, we feel pains toward people who experienced hardships that are beyond description and [this] administration shares the view held by past governments.”