Japan’s outspoken mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, made comments on Tuesday that South Korea has yet to show proof that its women were forced to serve as sexual slaves to the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Known by the euphemism “comfort women,” this issue has been at the heart of the tensions between the two countries ever since Japan’s occupation of Korea ended after WWII, with much of the population still demanding apologies to this day. Hashimoto’s remarks included the statement that there is no evidence the women were assaulted or forced into sexual slavery.
The topic came up when the press was interviewing Hashimoto about the recent visit by Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima Islands, which caused ire among the central government in Tokyo. The Osaka mayor was addressing the comments Lee made after his visit that Japan needs to apologize for its atrocities committed during the 35-year occupation, including Japanese Emperor Akihito personally bowing down if he wanted to visit South Korea again. Hashimoto said that Korea still needs to present solid proof that comfort women were taken away by force.
The Chosunilbo points out that in 1993, then cabinet secretary Yohei Kono spoke for the Japanese government in his admission that the Imperial Army did manage the establishment of “comfort stations” and the women who worked within. Hashimoto has been gaining popularity in recent months, and many expect his local political party, the Osaka Restoration Association, will play a big part in future elections, as well as the mayor himself possibly becoming a candidate for prime minister one day. The Korean media labels him as having far-rightwing views, such as his opinion that children should sing the Japanese national anthem in class everyday.