Osaka mayor to apologise to former wartime 'comfort women'
The maverick mayor of Osaka will meet former wartime sex slaves, reports said yesterday after he pledged to apologise to them, although insisting that Japan's soldiers were not unique in brutalising women.
Up to 200,000 "comfort women" from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were forcibly drafted into brothels catering to the Japanese military during the second world war, according to many historians.
"I think I have to apologise firmly for what Japan did as I talk to former comfort women," said Toru Hashimoto, who is co-leader of the national Japan Restoration Party.
He is set to meet two South Korean former "comfort women" later this month at Osaka city hall, local media said.
"I will tell the comfort women that I'm sorry for having had such a system no matter whether it was forcible or not," Hashimoto said. "It was a disgraceful act and should never be repeated."
But Hashimoto, who has been mentioned as a possible future prime minister, insisted sexual exploitation of women was not unique to Japan.
"During the second world war, neither the US nor the British militaries had comfort stations or comfort women, but it is an obvious fact that they made use of local women.
"Japan was not the only one doing so," he said. "Everybody was doing bad things. I think Japanese people ... should offer objections if there is a misunderstanding of facts in the world."
There is no evidence that other modern militaries employed a formal sex slavery system.
Hashimoto prompted outrage at home and abroad by saying on Monday that soldiers living with the daily threat of death needed some way to let off steam and that this was provided by the comfort women system.
Kang Jian, a Chinese lawyer who helps former sex slaves, said Japan needed to face up to its past in the same way that Germany had. "The crimes carried out by Japan during the war were extremely serious and also rarely seen in the history of human wars," she said. "They really were not just common 'evil deeds' but were planned and organised crimes."
In 1993, the Japanese government offered "sincere apologies" for the "immeasurable pain and suffering" inflicted on comfort women.