Mayor of Osaka’s Comments on Comfort Women Draw Ire

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Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto

On May 13, 2013, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto of the Japan Restoration Party made statements to the press at Osaka City Hall about the “necessity” of sex slavery by the Japanese military during World War II:

When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system.

When pressed, he insisted that brothels “were necessary at the time to maintain discipline in the army.”  Other countries’ militaries used prostitutes, too, he said, and added that in any case there was no proof that the Japanese authorities had forced women into servitude.  He put the women’s experiences down to “the tragedy of war.”

At the same time, Mayor Hashimoto said that he expressed to a U.S. senior military official that U.S. military troops stationed in Japan and Okinawa should make more use of the local adult entertainment industry to reduce sexual crimes against local women.

Mayor Hashimoto’s remarks have swiftly drawn widespread public rebuke.

Banri Kaieda, president of the Japan opposition Democratic Party, stated, “The comfort women system was not necessary,” further adding that Japan being the clear aggressor in war “is a fact we must face up to.”  A multi-partisan group of Japan’s female lawmakers has demanded that Mayor Hashimoto retract his remarks, saying that he has embarrassed Japan and shown the world that he does not understand human rights, calling him the ‘shame of Osaka,’ and pressing for him to resign.

From the 1930s through World War II, an estimated two-hundred thousand to four-hundred-and-fifty thousand girls and young women – some as young as twelve – were kidnapped in China, Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army.

On July 30, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously H.Res. 121 authored by Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15) [of California’s Silicon Valley], a resolution calling on the government of Japan to deliver an apology for its sexual enslavement of ‘comfort women’ during World War II and to apologize to victims of its wartime actions, including survivors of the Rape of Nanking and POWs who were used as slave laborers.

Mayor Hashimoto is reportedly scheduled for a June visit to the United States, particularly California’s Silicon Valley, and to meet with San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin Lee and New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg.   But, a U.S. official in Japan hinted that Hashimoto could find himself an unwanted guest.

Moreover, Congressman Honda issued a statement:

Mayor Hashimoto’s remarks that comfort women were ‘necessary’ are contemptible and repulsive.  His view is affront to history, humanity, and most of all to the young women who were coerced into horrific psychological, physical, emotional, and sexual violence, including gang rape, forced abortion, humiliation, and mutilation.

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.

Mayor Lee expressed that he was “disappointed” and “offended” by Mayor Hashimoto’s remarks.  His office has said that Mayor Lee is not currently scheduled to meet with Mayor Hashimoto.

San Francisco is a leader in women’s human rights and anti-violence policies and programs for women.  The 1998 CEDAW Ordinance reflects the principles of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international bill of rights for women including the right to be free from violence.

As expressed in a statement from the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and supported by its Commissioners, San Francisco’s sister city relationship with Osaka, the third largest city in Japan, is our nation’s oldest, dating back to 1957 when President Dwight Eisenhower approached Mayor George Christopher to mitigate anti-U.S. sentiment.  A long line of San Francisco Mayors have invested in this important relationship.  The recent statement by Mayor Hashimoto is counter to our values and it is our duty as a sister city to condemn Mayor Hashimoto’s remarks.

Executive Director of the Department on the Status of Women and board member of the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, Dr. Emily Murase, in that statement has vowed to “stand together with women’s groups in Japan and around the world to urge Mayor Hashimoto to take immediate steps to repair the damage resulting from his inflammatory statement, and to publicly recognize the tremendous human suffering and human rights violations of the wartime sex slavery system against women.”

As president of the Commission of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, I say, “Toru Hashimoto, you are not welcome in San Francisco, or any place where women have been united to fighting violence against women through Vagina Monologues, 15 years of the V-Day Movement, and this year’s One Billion Rising.  You are not welcome in over 190 countries, including your own.  Apologize now!”


Julie D. Soo is a senior staff counsel with the California Department of Insurance.  She sits on the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women.

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