Toru Hashimoto clarifies remarks on comfort women

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    Earlier this month, Toru Hashimoto, the governor of Osaka and leader of the Japan Restoration Party, got himself in trouble after making controversial remarks about prostitution on two different occasions. In one incident, he made remarks about the inevitability of military prostitution during war, a remark that some saw as a justification of Japan’s wartime “comfort women.” In another incident, he suggested that American military in Okinawa could avoid committing sex crimes if it encouraged troops to make use of prostitutes (referred to as “the sex industry” by people who buy into the fiction that it’s not really prostitution).

    It was stupid for Hashimoto to make such comments. The resulting domestic and international media coverage damaged Hashimoto’s reputation and caused the Japanese support for his political party to plummet.

    One lawmaker was expelled from the Japan Restoration Party because he tried to back up Hashimoto by pointing out that there are many Korean prostitutes voluntarily working today in Japan. The statement, although true, was denounced by his party as a “a violation of human rights and verbal violence.”

    Hashimoto was not expelled from the party. Instead, he held a press conference yesterday at the FCCJ. He apologized and retracted his remarks about the U.S. military. However, he did not apologize for the remarks he made about comfort women. Instead, he issued a detailed explanation of his viewpoint on the issue.

    Many newspapers are only printing a few lines of his statement. Here’s a long quotation of the English language translation of his view on comfort women:


    What I really meant by my remarks on so-called “comfort women”

    I am totally in agreement that the use of “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers before and during the World War 2 was an inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women in which large numbers of Korean and Japanese were included. I am totally aware that their great pain and deep hurt were beyond description.

    I also strongly believe that Japan must reflect upon its past offenses with humility and express a heartfelt apology and regret to those women who suffered from the wartime atrocities as comfort women. Our nation must be determined to stop this kind of tragedy from occurring again.

    I have never condoned the use of comfort women. I place the greatest importance on the dignity and human rights of women as an essential part of the universal values in today’s world. It is extremely regrettable that only the cut-off parts of my remarks have been reported worldwide and that these reports have resulted in misunderstood meanings of the remarks, which are utterly contrary to what I actually intended.

    We must express our deep remorse at the violation of the human rights of these women by the Japanese soldiers in the past, and make our apology to the women. What I intended to convey in my remarks was that a not-insignificant number of other nations should also sincerely face the fact that their soldiers violated the human rights of women. It is not a fair attitude to blame only Japan, as if the violation of human rights of women by soldiers were a problem unique to the Japanese soldiers. This kind of attitude shelves the past offenses that are the very things we must face worldwide if we are truly to aim for a better world where the human rights of women are fully respected. Sexual violation in wartime was not an issue unique to the former Japanese army. The issue existed in the armed forces of the U.S.A., the UK, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union among others during World War 2. It also existed in the armed forces of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

    Against this historical background, I stated that “the armed forces of nations in the world” seemed to have needed women “during the past wars”. Then it was wrongly reported that I myself thought it as necessary for armed forces to use women and that “I” tolerated it.

    It is a hard historical fact that soldiers of some nations of the world have used women for sexual purposes in wars. From the viewpoint of respecting the human rights of women, it does not make much difference whether the suffering women are licensed or unlicensed prostitutes and whether or not the armed forces are organizationally involved in the violation of the dignity of the women. The use of women for sexual purposes itself is a violation of their dignity. It also goes without saying that rape of local citizens by soldiers in occupied territories and hot spots of military conflict are intolerable atrocities.

    Please do not misunderstand, and think that I intend to relativize or justify the issue of comfort women for former Japanese soldiers. Such justification has never been my intention. Whatever soldiers of other nations did will not affect the fact that the violation of the dignity of women by the former Japanese soldiers was intolerable.

    What I really meant in my remarks was that it would be harmful, not only to Japan but also to the world, if Japan’s violation of the dignity of women by soldiers were reported and analyzed as an isolated and unique case, and if such reports came to be treated as common knowledge throughout the world. It would suppress the truth that the violation of the dignity of women by soldiers not only existed in the past but also has yet to be eradicated in today’s world. Based on the premise that Japan must remorsefully face its past offenses and must never justify the offenses, I intended to argue that other nations in the world must not attempt to conclude the matter by blaming only Japan and by associating Japan alone with the simple phrase of “sex slaves” or “sex slavery.”

    If only Japan is blamed, because of the widely held view that the state authority of Japan was intentionally involved in the abduction and trafficking of women, I will have to inform you that this view is incorrect.

    While expecting sensible nations to voice the issue of the violation of the dignity of women by soldiers, I believe that there is no reason for inhibiting Japanese people from doing the same. Because the Japanese people are in a position to face the deplorable past of the use of comfort women by the former Japanese soldiers, to express deep remorse and to state their apology, they are obliged to combat the existing issue of the violation of the dignity of women by soldiers, and to do so in partnership with all the nations which also have their past and/or present offenses.

    Today, in the twenty-first century, the dignity and human rights of women have been established as a sacred part of the universal values that nations in the world share. It is one of the greatest achievements of progress made by human beings. In the real world, however, the violation of the dignity of women by soldiers has yet to be eradicated. I hope to aim for a future world where the human rights of women will be more respected. Nevertheless, we must face the past and present in order to talk about the future. Japan and other nations in the world must face the violation of the human rights of women by their soldiers. All the nations and peoples in the world should cooperate with one another, be determined to prevent themselves from committing similar offenses again, and engage themselves in protecting the dignity of women at risk in the world’s hot spots of military conflict and in building that future world where the human rights of women are respected.

    Japan must face, and thoroughly reflect upon, its past offenses. Any justification of the offenses will not be tolerated. Based on this foundation, I expect other nations in the world to face the issue of the sexual violations in the past wars as their own issue. In April this year, the G8 Foreign Ministers in London agreed upon the “Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.” Based on this accomplishment, I expect that the G8 Summit to be held in this June in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, the UK, will become an important occasion where the leaders of G8 will examine how soldiers from nations in the world, including the former Japanese soldiers, have used women for sexual purposes, face and reflect upon the past offenses with humility, solve today’s problems in partnership with one another, and aim for the ideal future.

    I’m not sure if it really reflects the true opinions that Hashimoto held before he got in trouble for his remarks. However, it’s a rather reasonable position on the comfort women issue. It’s a shame that because it came from a guy like Hashimoto, it will probably be depicted as evil/offensive/outrageous.

    For too long, international journalists have chosen to parrot the South Korean nationalist narrative of what happened. Millions of women throughout history, before and after World War 2, have been forced, tricked, or sold into working at brothels that service soldiers. Yet, for some reason, only the women who worked at brothels serving the Japanese military are referred to as “sex slaves” by the international media. It plays directly into the game being played by Korean nationalists. They don’t want this to be about recognizing widespread injustices and preventing future sexual exploitation. They want to pursue their grudge against Japan.

    Some foreign reporters were taken aback by the accusation that their countries’ armies have also sexually exploited women. For example, Kirk Spitzer of Time felt the need to emphasize that Hashimoto “offered no evidence to support the claim” that nations such as the U.S. and Korea were involved in acts sexual violation. In the time that Spitzer took to write that sentence, he could have made a google search and found numerous sources that provide evidence. But, we can probably expect that future articles from other international journalists will accuse Hashimoto of making false accusations.

    Japanese media coverage of Hashimoto’s press conference focused on the reaction of foreign journalists. Here is a clip from Nihon TV:

    They show a Taiwanese reporter who comments on how former lawyer Hashimoto was speaking like a lawyer and probably not revealing his true opinions. Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times told them that it was difficult to comprehend Hashimoto’s viewpoint. TV coverage in general seems to show that the international news media isn’t going to buy into Hashimoto’s statements.

    tabuchi comments on hashimoto

    Background Information on Japan’s Official Response to the Comfort Women Issue

    The issue of war reparations was addressed during the negotiations of the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The South Korean government accepted a huge sum of money from Japan, stating that it would take care of the distribution of reparations to individual Korean victims of Japanese imperialism. The South Korean government agreed that its citizens would no longer have the legal right to demand compensation payments from the Japanese government.

    Unfortunately for the victims, the South Korean government hid the reparations agreement from its citizens and used the money for other purposes. For decades, South Koreans believed that Japan had not properly paid reparations to their country. The South Korean government eventually admitted the truth in 2005:

    In January 2005, the South Korean government disclosed 1,200 pages of diplomatic documents that recorded the proceeding of the treaty. The documents, kept secret for 40 years, recorded that South Korea agreed to demand no compensations, either at the government or individual level, after receiving $800 million in grants and soft loans from Japan as compensation for its 1910–45 colonial rule in the treaty.
    The documents also recorded that the Korean government demanded a total of 364 million dollars in compensation for the 1.03 million Koreans conscripted into the workforce and the military during the colonial period, at a rate of 200 dollars per survivor, 1,650 dollars per death and 2,000 dollars per injured person.However, the South Korean government used most of the grants for economic development, failing to provide adequate compensation to victims by paying only 300,000 won per death in compensating victims of forced labor between 1975 and 1977. Instead, the government spent most of the money establishing social infrastructures, founding POSCO, building Gyeongbu Expressway and the Soyang Dam with the technology transfer from Japanese companies.

    The documents also reveal that the South Korean government claimed that it would handle individual compensation to its citizens who suffered during Japan’s colonial rule while rejecting Japan’s proposal to directly compensate individual victims and receiving the whole amount of grants on the behalf of victims.(emphasis added)

    Despite this evidence, many Koreans insist to this day that Japan never paid any form of compensation to their country. They have also dismissed or ignored the Japanese government’s numerous apologies to victims of imperialism.

    When the comfort women issue gained international attention in the 1990′s, the Japanese government decided that it was a special case. Despite the fact that the previous treaty had legally settled the reparations issue and despite the fact that South Korea had paid compensation to the women, measures were taken to provide additional aid to former comfort women. Directly paying reparations would violate the 1965 agreement, so the Japanese government instead established the Asian Women’s Fund to raise funds and deliver compensation payments.

    As noted on the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s homepage, the official response to the issue included apologies and the distribution of billions of yen in reparations to surviving comfort women:

    Recognizing that the issue known as “comfort women” was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of a large number of women, the Government of Japan, together with the people of Japan, seriously discussed what could be done for expressing their sincere apologies and remorse to the former “comfort women.” As a result, the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) was established on July 19, 1995 in order to extend atonement from Japanese people to the former “comfort women.” Having decided to provide necessary assistance for the AWF by a Cabinet decision in August 1995, the Government of Japan, with a view to fulfilling its moral responsibility, had been providing all possible assistance for the AWF, including bearing the total operational costs of the AWF, assisting its fund-raising and providing the necessary funds to implement its activities (approximately 4.8 billion yen from the AWF’s founding through fiscal year of 2005), in order for the AWF to attain its goals.

    The AWF closed its doors in 2006, after having spent a decade searching for surviving comfort women and delivering compensation and apologies to those willing to accept them. Sadly, many former comfort women rejected the apologies and compensation. This was because Korean nationalists had convinced them that a foundation established and funded by the Japanese government was “unofficial,” and thus the AWF’s work did not amount to a “sincere” effort by Japan. The civic group that erected the bronze statue is made up of people who hold such a view of the AWF.

    And finally, here are two frequently mentioned points that should probably be addressed.

    • Korea wasn’t a democratic country in 1965” – Apparently, some people think that the entire 1965 agreement should be scrapped because Park Chung-hee was not a democratically elected ruler. Unfortunately, that’s not how diplomacy works. Japan had no control over the form of government in South Korea, and it had to deal with the South Korea that existed at that time. Compensation payments were necessary to normalize relations, and Japan had to agree to pay that money to the South Korean government before the treaty could be signed. Waiting decades to see if South Korea would ever democratize was not a realistic option. And it isn’t fair to expect that Japan should repay that money because the South Korean government didn’t properly execute the domestic end of the agreement. [ It's also strange to think that today's Japan should be held financially accountable for the actions of its pre-1945 undemocratic regime, but that Korea should ignore the actions of its previous undemocratic regime.]
    • “Why doesn’t Japan just make a direct payment of compensation to the women?” – Since the end of World War II, Japan has used bilateral agreements to settle reparations issues with all of the countries that suffered due to Japanese imperialism. Billions of yen were paid to the national governments of countries. The agreements made individual compensation a legal matter between the people of those countries and the governments of those countries. These kinds of state level agreements are widely recognized throughout the world, and are far more common than agreements that leave open the possibility of compensation lawsuits from individuals. If Japan were to void its agreement with South Korea by paying direct individual compensation to the former comfort women, it would in effect void all the other postwar reparations agreements. Reparations that were already legally settled and already paid at the state level would have to be re-paid at the individual level. The Asian Women’s Fund allowed Japan to avoid the legal mess of voiding treaties, while still being able to satisfying a desire to pay special compensation to the surviving comfort women. (To learn more about Japan’s state level compensation policy, check out Japan’s Contested War Memories by Philip Seaton and flip to page 59.)

    This summary of the apology/compensation issue is not meant to belittle or insult the former comfort women. Their suffering was great, and they deserved compensation and apologies. This summary was meant to provide a calm and rational look at how the postwar Japanese government has already taken very real actions in response to the situation – including very real apologies and very real monetary compensation.

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