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Dr Maki Kimura - Japan's politicians have a problem with 'comfort women'

17 May 2013

Dr Maki Kimura, a Teaching Fellow in Gender and Politics, at The School of Public Policy wrote an article for The Guardian on recent remarks by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto justifying Japan's war-time use of sex slaves.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (Photo by Kenta Sujino).

Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka in Japan and the co-leader of the nationalist Japan Restoration party, has always been a politician of controversies. However, his comment that the system of "comfort women" during the second world war was necessary has caused a storm of protest on a different scale. It outraged neighbouring Asian countries and feminist activists who had supported these women and sought to gain recognition of what they had suffered. Cabinet ministers and other Japanese politicians in the ruling conservative party and in opposition have also expressed their strong disapproval.

In general, the Japanese political establishment has been reluctant to admit official government involvement in the system of "comfort women". There have been a few statements from politicians such as prime ministers Kiichi Miyazawa and Tomiichi Murayama in 1992 and 1995, and the chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, but the current PM, Shinzo Abe, has expressed his intention to revise some of the above apologies. Hashimoto's remark could therefore be read as another example of the trend towards growing political conservatism and nationalism in Japan.

However, the nature of his comment is slightly different ,and his lack of awareness as to how gender, class and ethnicity intersect to create particular forms of sexual exploitation has stunned many.

In his comment on the system of "comfort women", he stated that while such a system may not be acceptable to contemporary society, sexual industries (euphemistically called "entertainment and amusement industries" in Japan) are still indispensable, particularly around military bases. Furthermore, he revealed that when he visited the US military base in Futenma in Okinawa earlier this month, he even advised the US commanders to make use of these industries to release and control the "sexual energy" of the members of the Marine Corps. As many politicians and feminist activists said in response, this is not a comment that the leader of a political party or any politician holding a position of responsibility should make. Read more at »

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

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