Two South Korean women who say they were forcibly drafted into Japanese military brothels during World War II have canceled a meeting with a Japanese mayor who sparked outrage by calling them a wartime necessity.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and two former “comfort women” were to meet yesterday, but the elderly women reportedly changed their minds over fears of becoming political pawns in a long-running diplomatic dispute that has stoked tensions between Tokyo and Seoul.
An Osaka city spokesman said that “we don’t know the reason for the cancelation.”
However, Japan’s Jiji Press news agency quoted supporters of the women, both in their eighties, as saying that the pair did not want to be part of Hashimoto’s “performance of apology.”
“They are feeling extreme unease about Hashimoto’s comments, and are saying they don’t want to meet him,” they added.
Earlier this month, the mayor said wartime prostitutes served a “necessary” role keeping battle-stressed soldiers in line, setting off a volley of criticism from countries under Japan’s rule in the 1930s and 1940s as well as from the US.
He later pledged to apologize to the women for his comments, while insisting Japan’s soldiers were not unique in brutalizing women.
Sex slavery is a particularly sensitive issue in Korea, a former Japanese colony whose people made up many of the up to 200,000 “comfort women” forcibly drafted into brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.
In the days since his original comments, Hashimoto, the co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, has continued to fan the flames with new pronouncements, many of which have been on Twitter where he has more than 1 million followers.
Hashimoto said in a comment reported on Tuesday that the South Korean military used women for sex during the Vietnam War, inviting a sharp response from Seoul.
“Japan was bad,” he told a party meeting on Monday, the Asahi Shimbun reported. “It is true that we used women to solve the problem of sex on the battlefield.”
“Having said that, the US, Britain, Germany and France, and even the South Korean military in Vietnam after WWII, they all used women to address the issue,” he added.
Meanwhile, Japan on Thursday accused a South Korean newspaper of “dishonorable” behavior for publishing an editorial that said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “divine punishment” for Tokyo’s wartime aggression.
The editorial in the Korean and English versions of the Joongang Ilbo on Monday said the 1945 nuclear bombs dropped by US planes, which together killed more than 200,000 people, were justified, saying: “God often borrows the hand of a human to punish the evil deeds of men.”