Abe’s pose resurrects horrors of Unit 731

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Abe’s pose resurrects horrors of Unit 731


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses inside the cockpit of a T-4 training jet plane, emblazoned with the number 731, of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Blue Impulse flight team on Sunday at the JASDF base in Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Provided by JIJI

A photograph of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiling and giving a thumbs up from inside a training jet emblazoned with the number 731 is going to infuriate Chinese, Russians, Koreans and other victims of Japanese brutality before and during World War II.

The number 731 evokes the name of Imperial Japan’s notorious medical research unit in Harbin, China, that performed lethal experiments on live humans. Some of its scientists were tried for war crimes.

The Nelson Report, an Asia-focused newsletter aimed at Washington politicians, compared Abe’s action to a German prime minster wearing a Nazi uniform “for fun.”

“It is an unimaginable act,” said former ruling Saenuri Party leader Chung Mong-joon, comparing it to “German Chancellor [Angela] Merkel riding an aircraft with the Nazi swastika.”

The Korean media yesterday published the photograph of Abe sitting in the pilot’s seat of a T-4 training jet of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force’s Blue Impulse flight team at a base in Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture on Sunday.

The aircraft is labeled with the number 731. In smaller Roman characters, it bears the words “Leader S. Abe” above a yellow arrow.

Abe was at the base as part of an inspection tour of areas affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Unit 731 was the covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that experimented on humans, including prisoners of war from China, Russia and Korea, between 1932 and 1945. The unit had the codename of “Maruta” or “log” in Japanese.

Abe has made headlines recently with nationalistic gestures such as questioning the idea that Japan invaded other Asian nations before and during World War II, and suggesting he will backpedal on apologies to Asian nations by some of his predecessors.

The Saenuri Party’s Chung said Abe’s action was “an act of direct provocation to Korea, China and other victim nations.”

The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said officials were discussing a response yesterday.

This is not the first time Abe has raised controversy through the display of significant numbers. On May 5, he wore a jersey with the number 96 at a baseball game at the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium.

Abe has been pushing for amending the Article 96 of Japanese Constitution to make passing of constitutional amendments easier.

Abe is also in favor of revising the Constitution’s Article 9 written after the war, which prohibits the country from going to war.

The photo appeared a day after Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto drew an international backlash after saying Monday that the so-called “comfort women,” or sex slaves, of the Japanese military before and during World War II were “necessary.”

Hashimoto, co-leader of the newly formed Japan Restoration Party, told reporters that comfort women “were necessary at the time to maintain discipline in the army.”

He also said, “It’s clear that you need a comfort women system” for “emotionally charged soldiers” during times of war.

Hashimoto later added women served “against their will,” but defended Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s questioning the definition of Japan’s war “aggressions.”

Hashimoto added further fuel to fire by saying that on a recent visit to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, he recommended U.S. Army officials to take advantage of “legal” facilities to release sexual “energy” Monday evening, Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday.

Hashimoto took to his Twitter account yesterday reiterating that there was no problem with U.S. military taking advantage of Japan’s legalized sex industry and that military brothels were normal.

A U.S. Pentagon spokesman called Hashimoto’s remark “ridiculous” and told the Asahi Shimbun that it goes against U.S. “policy and value.”

The New York Times reported yesterday that the comment drew protests from Japan’s Democratic Party and women’s rights advocates in Japan.

Several Japanese ministers denounced Hashimoto’s remarks on comfort women being a “necessity,” Kyodo News reported yesterday.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Hashimoto’s remarks were his “personal comments” and that he hoped they would not negatively affect Japan-South Korea relations.

Hakubun Shimomura, minister of education, said it was “inappropriate for a person who represents a political party to make such comments.”

Tomomi Inada, minister of administrative reform, stated that the comfort women system was “a grave abuse of female human rights.”

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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