Osaka’s abrasive mayor on Friday hit back at US criticism of his remarks on wartime sex slavery, claiming American troops abused Japanese women during their seven-year occupation.
Washington denounced as “outrageous” comments earlier this week by Toru Hashimoto, who said “comfort women” forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during the second world war were a military necessity.
“Mayor Hashimoto’s comments were outrageous and offensive,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, urging Tokyo to work with its neighbours to address the past issue.
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 mainstream historians.
But Hashimoto, whose quick tongue and forthright approach has won him friends and enemies in equal measure, hit back on Twitter.
“Let me go straight to the point. When America occupied Japan, didn’t they make use of Japanese women?” Hashimoto Tweeted to his million followers.
“I can’t help but point out that it is unfair for America to criticise only Japan by putting aside acts by its own country,” said Hashimoto, who has been mentioned as a possible future prime minister.
“(The United States) should face what the US military did against local women, in particular Okinawan women when they occupied Japan,” he added.
US-led Allied powers controlled Japan until 1952 following its surrender at the end of the second world war.
The southern prefecture of Okinawa remained under US governance for another two decades before being returned to Tokyo.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower is among credible sources who say American troops committed multiple rapes of Japanese women during the occupation and that press censorship muted reporting of these crimes.
Hashimoto also claimed that France and Germany were among countries that introduced wartime “comfort stations”.
“It is a historical fact that the comfort station system was used during the Korean war and the Vietnam war,” he tweeted. He gave no details of this claim and did not say which side’s soldiers used the brothels.
There is no mainstream evidence that modern militaries other than Japan’s have employed a formal sex slavery system.
On Monday, Hashimoto prompted outrage at home and abroad by saying 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.
He said he believed the system was wrong and that former sex slaves deserved an apology.
The opinion that there is no proof of direct involvement in the sex slave system by the state or the imperial army is not uncommon on the right of Japanese politics.