No, the comfort women tragedy won’t go away, writes Asia Sentinel’s Todd Crowell

From time to time, conservative Japanese politicians get into trouble by denying that Imperial Japan forced women of occupied countries, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” to work in military brothels serving Japanese troops during World War II.

Nobody however has managed to get into as much hot water over this issue as Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who doubles as the co-leader, with former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, of the new Japan Restoration Party, the third largest party in parliament.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo Monday, May 27. Pic: AP.

Ever since he opined with Osaka reporters and on social media that the comfort woman system was a necessary adjunct to the Japanese war effort in early May, the Japanese press has maintained a steady drumbeat of stories and opinions taking Hashimoto to task, and leading to speculation that he might resign as party leader.

Hashimoto had compounded his problem by linking history to the current situation of US forces stationed in Okinawa where, during a recent visit, he claimed to have felt a “strong sense of crisis” about behavior of American forces stationed on the island.

Introduced to the commander of the Marine air station at Futenba, he advised him to make better use of the “legally accepted adult entertainment industry” to satisfy soldiers’ needs. It is not known how the Americans reacted to this high-level politician seeming to suggest that they should institute a comfort system for their troops. After all, prostitution is illegal in the US and has been illegal in Japan since the 1950s.

The meeting and his remarks there that took place May 1 might have stayed private except that Hashimoto himself later boasted of his encounter with Osaka journalists and described it on his own Twitter account, which is read by about a million people. “Hashimoto ratted on Hashimoto” said Michael Penn, editor of Shingetsu News Agency.

Hashimoto misjudged how his remarks would be received in an audience wider than the more extreme nationalists or that it might harm relations with the US, he said. While many Japanese conservatives dislike how history has judged Japan’s wartime aggression (many deny the accuracy of that term), they still value the alliance with the US.

The behavior of American military personnel in Japan and especially on Okinawa is a touchy subject. The American high command is intimately aware that any misbehavior can literally endanger the alliance. Whenever one occurs, the military goes into overdrive: mass restrictions to base, curfews, mandatory lectures on how to behave and, if needed, abject apologies from generals, admirals and the ambassador.

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