Osaka mayor draws local criticism for ‘comfort women’ comments

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Following his recent comments on the so-called “comfort women,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto received criticism from community members in Osaka’s sister city of San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area.

On May 13 Hashimoto said that women forced into sexual slavery during World War II to serve the Japanese military were deemed “necessary to maintain discipline,” Kyodo News reported. Many of the women came from annexed Korea and other Asian countries. Following his initial remarks, Hashimoto advised the United States May 14 via Twitter to ease restrictions on the U.S. military’s use of legal adult entertainment to prevent sex offenses in Okinawa. He clarified May 15 that, while the “comfort women” system “should not exist,” that Japan alone should not be criticized as other nations, including the U.S. and South Korea, took part in similar actions, according to Kyodo News reports. Hashimoto held a press conference on May 27 where he denied that he viewed the “comfort women” as “necessary” and reiterated his comments from May 15. He also apologized and retracted his advice for the U.S. to use legal adult entertainment, according to Kyodo News.

Rep. Mike Honda from San Jose, who has worked on the “comfort women” issue in the past, put his own past into context. “As someone who was put into an internment camp as an infant, I know we must never be ignorant of the past, and that reconciliation through appropriate government action admitting error is the only resolution likely to be long lasting,” he said in a written statement May 21. Honda called for a formal acknowledgment, apology and acceptance of historical responsibility in a “clear and unequivocal manner” by the Government of Japan.

According to Emily Murase, executive director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women and a San Francisco – Osaka Sister City Association board member, Osaka and San Francisco share the nation’s oldest sister city relationship, dating back to 1957.

Murase said in a statement published May 16, “to justify the exploitation and suffering experienced by the women, some just girls, who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II is a flagrant denial of basic human rights. Sex slavery is never ‘necessary.’”

Murase also added that the San Francisco – Osaka Sister City Association said, “Statements that justify controversial wartime abuses and devastating violence against women are damaging to international relations, and contrary to the mission of the Association.”

In response to Hashimoto’s clarification that sexual slavery occurred during the war and that other nations have had similar practices, Murase told the Nichi Bei Weekly on May 21 that “Violence against women is reprehensible in all contexts.” Murase said it would be problematic, should Hashimoto choose to visit San Francisco in June for a Sister City exchange. Hashimoto announced May 28, however, that he will cancel his trip to the U.S., initially slated for mid-June.

Kaz Maniwa, senior vice president of the U.S.-Japan Council, spoke as a community member, saying he was “shocked and appalled” by Hashimoto’s comments. “It sends a negative image for, not only U.S.-Japan relationships, but to China and Korea as well.” As for Hashimoto’s remarks on U.S. military and adult entertainment in Okinawa, Maniwa said, “His attempts to distance himself from his comments and his attempt to change the issue does not justify his promotion of prostitution in Okinawa.”

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California condemned Hashimoto in a May 16 statement. The community center said, while it is unusual for them to comment publicly on Japanese politicians, Hashimoto’s comments were of international concern, including within the Asian Pacific Islander communities in America. The community center said it has had a relationship with Osaka City Hall for the past two decades and has sponsored and organized international programs and exchanges between the two countries, but said Hashimoto’s comments would “make it impossible for the JCCCNC to continue to organize joint programs and make courtesy calls to Osaka City Hall.”

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