Officials in Osaka, Japan are keeping their heads down this week after their mayor, Toru Hashimoto, made some uncool comments about the country’s role in keeping "comfort women" during World War II.
His exact (-ish) words were (as translated and quoted by Japanese media):
"In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives. If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that."
In reality, these more than 200,000 women are understood to have been sex slaves, forced into servicing Japanese soldiers while their territories were occupied by Japan. If that was necessary, their suffering was appropriate and unavoidable. Not a chance.
There were comfort women in many nations around Asia during World War II, including China, South Korea, and Indonesia. Spokespeople from these nations were quick to speak out and condemn Hashimoto’s words.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Hashimoto’s remarks “flagrantly challenge historical justice." A South Korean spokesperson asserted that Japan’s comfort women system was a “serious breach of human rights.”
Hashimoto apologized for his comments on Tuesday, and announced this morning that he will meet with former comfort women to make amends in person.
As usual, women’s voices have been largely missing in the coverage of this issue, even though the issue is largely about women. Many comfort women themselves are still very much alive and speaking out about their horrific experiences of WWII. It'll be interesting to see if they accept Hashimoto's apology.
If you'd like to learn more about WWII's comfort women, this documentary is a good place to lend your eyes and ears. You can also support this project, and help fund a woman-made doc about these women's stories.
Photos via US National Archives, Trust.org.