Nice try, but no thanks“I will tell the comfort women that I’m sorry for Japan having had such a system no matter whether it was forced or not. It was a disgraceful act and should never be repeated. Many Japanese people try to avoid responsibility and justify the act.”
“I feel both great sadness and deepest regret for the immeasurable pain and suffering experienced at that time by the comfort women.”
Surprisingly, these comments are not from the group fighting against far-right Japanese politicians. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, the culprit behind the stir across Northeast Asia by arguing that “comfort women were necessary,” made the first comment on May 16. He began changing his position the day before, and when he made a television appearance that day, he transformed into a good man advocating for human rights.
Only a few days before, Hashimoto infuriated the international community by saying, “In circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, soldiers run 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.” He argued that it was not his opinion but that he was trying to say that’s how the comfort women system was created, adding that if there had been coercion, all 120 million Japanese citizens need to repent.
He changed his position when his previous remarks enraged female voters and made another political party leader retract a promise to make an election coalition with his party in July. However, he did not withdraw his comment. While he called for an apology for the comfort women, he couldn’t completely hide his true colors and said, “Japan was not the only one doing so. Everybody was doing bad things. I think Japanese people .?.?. should offer objections if there is a misunderstanding of facts in the world” as if to suggest that Japan was being “unduly insulted” and singled out.
The second comment came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. When asked about Hashimoto’s comment at the Upper House budget committee, he maintained his distance. Since last year, he has provoked neighboring countries by saying, “A newly born Liberal Democratic Party should make a cabinet decision to adopt a new statement to replace the Kono and Murayama statements.” However, when Hashimoto’s controversial behavior was affecting his own reputation, Abe turned away from the rightist colleague with whom he had a “heart-to-heart connection.” The prime minister said that he, the cabinet and the LDP have different positions. Upset by Abe’s change, Hashimoto attacked the remarks, stating that “the government is more hurtful for the former comfort women since it said the comfort women issue has been resolved legally.” It was the highlight of the play performed by two men playing nice.
The transformation of the two is motivated by the Upper House election in July. They felt nervous that their provocative remarks to appeal to the right were backfiring. The play starring Abe and Hashimoto leaves a bitter feeling.
* The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Seo Seung-wook