Japanese mayor notes insensitivity of telling U.S. troops to visit his nation's adult establishments
TOKYO — An outspoken mayor who outraged many with remarks about Japan's wartime and modern sexual services stood by his comments on Thursday, but said he may have lacked “international sensitivity.”
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said his lack of sensitivity to America's perception of prostitution might have caused outrage. He suggested earlier this week that American troops based in southern Japan should patronize legal adult-entertainment establishments to reduce sex crime there.
Hashimoto, co-leader of an emerging nationalist party, also angered Japan's neighbors by saying that his country's military-wartime practice of forcing Asian women into prostitution was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers.
He claimed that the practice was widely used by many other countries during World War II and that Japan was being unfairly singled out.
The State Department called Hashimoto's comments “outrageous and offensive.”
Historians say up to 200,000 women —mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China — were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels.
Although some other World War II armies had military brothels, Japan is the only country accused of such widespread, organized sexual slavery.
Hashimoto said he has no intention of retracting his earlier comments.
“If there is one big mistake I made, that might have been my lack of understanding of culture behind the U.S. sex industry — if you mention adult entertainment in the U.S., everyone thinks of prostitution,” he said.
said during a live TV talk show from Osaka, in western Japan. “I admit that my international sensitivity was quite poor when I had to operate beyond national borders.”
The ruckus started Monday when Hashimoto commented on the wartime “comfort women” who had to provide sex to Japan's Imperial Army. Hashimoto said that on a recent visit to the southern island of Okinawa he suggested to the U.S. commander there that the troops make use of the legal sex industry.
More than half of about 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact are on Okinawa, where base-related crime has long triggered anti-U.S. military sentiment.
U.S. officials rejected his proposal. “That goes without saying,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Tuesday in Washington.
In a tweet Wednesday, Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who has urged Japan to take responsibility for wartime sex slavery, called Hashimoto's remarks that “comfort women” were necessary “contemptible and repulsive,” and demanded Japan's government “apologize for this atrocity.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the trafficking of women for sexual purposes during that era was “a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions.”
“We hope that Japan will continue to work with its neighbors to address this and other issues arising from the past and cultivate relationships that allow them to move forward,” Psaki told reporters Thursday.
Hashimoto said Thursday that his comments were not intended to justify or whitewash Japan's use of prostitution for its wartime military and that Japan should apologize to the women whether or not they were forced into it.
Hashimoto's comments came amid continuing criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's earlier pledges to revise Japan's past apologies for wartime atrocities. Before he took office in December, Abe had advocated revising a 1993 statement by then-Prime Minister Yohei Kono acknowledging and expressing remorse for the suffering caused to the sex slaves.