by Christopher Johnson —
It’s hard for anyone born after 1945 to imagine the terrible suffering of Japanese and other people before, during, and after World War II. Many people, including those who are too young to have personally experienced the atrocities on all sides, have been arguing for years about what really happened to thousands of women used for sex during and after the war.
Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, once thought to be a rising star in Japanese politics, recently came under fire for his comments about the so-called “comfort women”, who many regard as sex slaves repeatedly raped, beaten, infected with diseases and left to suffer in shame and silence. Hashimoto, born in Tokyo’s popular Shibuya entertainment district in 1969, made a formal apology Monday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan for his earlier comments suggesting US soldiers use sexual services offered in Okinawa. But he also reiterated a popular notion in Japan that there is no evidence that the Japanese state forced women into prostitution against their will.
Here is an English translation of Hashimoto’s statement:
Many women who have strong feelings about wartime atrocities felt they didn’t get enough chance to question and enlighten Hashimoto during his press conference.
Though thousands of women work in journalism in Japan, only a few were able to ask questions, and only toward the end of the presser after women complained. No women from China, Korea or other nations who suffered from wartime atrocities apparently had a chance to speak to Hashimoto at the meeting.
(Mari Yamaguchi’s report for the Associated Press is perhaps the most comprehensive look at a complex issue. http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_268780/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=I3cFcWf4)
(See Lucy Williamson’s report for BBC about the South Korean survivors: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22680705)
The FCCJ invited a group of Japanese female politicians to speak the following day. Only about 50 people attended, far fewer than the estimated 400 people who crammed the FCCJ for Hashimoto’s presser.
While many journalists found the session more truthful and informative than Hashimoto’s statements the previous day, one fatigued worker listened with closed eyes.
Though most Japanese and international media will ignore their comments, the female politicians at the FCCJ were voicing a view different from that of many Japanese politicians regarding the controversial issue of sex slaves, which Hashimoto and others call “comfort women”, a translation of “ianfu” in Japanese.
Here are some of their comments Tuesday at the FCCJ:
Kiyomi Tsujimoto — Democratic Party of Japan member from Osaka, which is governed by Hashimoto.
“Hashimoto said there’s no documents (to prove that women were forced into sex slavery). But based on interviews with people involved, and raw documents, there were acts to forcibly take women to do this. These kind of comments from Hashimoto show his ignorance. It shows he’s unaware, or pretends to be unaware, of discussions held in the Diet about this issue. There have been many discussions over the years, and I have the raw documents to prove it.”
Keiko Itokazu, an independent MP from Okinawa:
“We cannot allow such a person to remain in office. He is someone who could agree with the violation of human rights. Therefore, 27 women’s organizations in Okinawa immediately protested against his statements.”
“This is particularly painful for Okinawa. It was the only place in Japan to experience fighting on land. One in four people died in Okinawa. There were many comfort stations. After the war, people felt discriminated against in general. Why did Hashimoto have to bring in Okinawa to make these remarks. His comments are very very dangerous. He seems to be wanting to make the US presence in Japan more permanent. That raises our concerns.”
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party:
“The men in my party are very angry. They are helping us collect signatures in protest of Hashimoto’s comments against women.”
“Nationalists are attempting to rewrite history, and many are Diet members. Ever since the Abe administration began, there’s been a change in the winds. Hashimoto perhaps felt encouraged, by the Abe administration, to make these comments.”
“There’s a gender backlash now. In Aug 1999, comfort women form Korea came forward to talk about their experiences. There were lawsuits against the Japanese government. The government made the Kono statement (officially apologizing to sex slaves.) There was a time when we thought that things were moving positively. The Kono statement wanted to include comfort women stories inside textbooks. It seemed Japan was taking a positive view.”
“The gender backlash began in the first Abe administration. The backlash was not only against comfort women but against women in general. Over time, comfort women stories have disappeared from textbooks. The Abe administration has made statements repeatedly that the Kono statement wasn’t on firm ground.”
“These women were doing things against their will. That is the main point. It’s very very clear, if you look at court cases in other countries. When we consider the great pain they suffered, we must somehow respond to their great courage.”
Kuniko Tanioka, leader of the Green Wind Party:
“It’s very damaging to the image of Japan. Is Japan really a decent country with international norms? Is it a country of equality and human rights? This is a question that the world is now asking. I have to say that Hashimoto is an exception. We have many decent men who have enough control over their sexual emotions. We have many women who are conscious about their human rights. We have to show countries that are now suffering in wars about how Japan can reconcile, and benefit the world by acting decently.”
“The problem arises from the fact that accountability of Japan, especially for WW II, was really damaged by the fact that the government and bureaucracy itself burnt so many documents when they surrendered. Many people say that we cannot prove that it was a government order. Of course, because they burned the proof. If you burn the proof, it’s your fault. So the Japanese government as a whole is responsible if they can’t prove they are innocent. Mr. Hashimoto has to understand these facts. This is a problem of the current society as well as the future society.”
“Hashimoto is blaming the media for misunderstanding and over-reacting. Most of the men around me are furious about his remarks. Hashimoto does not represent them at all.”
“Japanese people recently lost pride and became more introverted. There are nationalistic trends in education. The leftist militant movement has become so far away from the mind of average Japanese people. That has really pushed away many Japanese people from the (sex slavery) issue.”
“(Former prime minister) Nakasone said he was, as a member of the military, involved in establishing a comfort station. This became a problem for him in the US. Nakasone came to the FCCJ and offered his explanation for this. He called it a “recreational facility,” she said, citing what she called documentary proof.
She said these documents became public after Nakasone’s presser at the FCCJ.
She read from the document, which said, according to her: “Thanks to the efforts of this director, the ‘indigenous women’ were able to be collected, and this was very effective in soothing the emotions (of the men.)”
She said that “documents never say straight-forward: go and forcibly collect women.”
“There are no specific statements saying ‘drag them here by force’. Hashimoto and his supporters use this to say ‘there’s no evidence’.”
Here are a few links to articles and websites related to the status of women in Japan and the sex slave issue.