ACTION ALERT: Japan: Stop Denying The "Comfort Women" Justice!
September 9, 2013 Watchdog.net & Paul Armstrong / CNN & Kyung Lah / CNN
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has defended the rape and kidnapping of up to 200,000 "comfort women" who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII. Hashimoto explains that the abduction and abasement of these women was simply part of "a necessary system to maintain military discipline."
ACTION ALERT: Japan: Stop Denying The "Comfort Women" Justice! Watchdog.net
(September 8, 2013) -- Historians believe Japan forced up to 200,000 Chinese and Korean women to be sex slaves during WWII. Women who survived -- and weren't shamed into silence -- have described being recruited for labor, then beaten and raped by as many as 40 Japanese officers a day.
The Japanese government still won't admit these women were actually kidnapped and raped. And now Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has decided to give his take on the atrocities: rape and kidnapping were "necessary" to sate the lust and harness the virility of Japan's soldiers.
"Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for a group of high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men braving their lives under a storm of bullets," Hashimoto said. He also questioned whether the women were really coerced and claimed comfort women were part of "a necessary system to maintain military discipline."
This is a slap in the face to the women who went through this ordeal, a cowardly move from a government that waited until most of these women were dead before broaching the topic at all. Please, join us in condemning Mayor Hashimoto's atrocious commentary and calling on the Japanese to admit blame and begin compensation talks.
PETITION TO JAPANESE GOVERNMENT:
We condemn the rape apologist statements made by Mayor Toru Hasimoto on Japan's "comfort women," and call on government leaders to admit their blame and begin compensation talks immediately.
(May 15, 2013) -- Japanese officials have distanced themselves from comments made by a prominent nationalist politician that suggested women forced to become prostitutes to entertain Japanese troops during World War II were "necessary."
Toru Hashimoto, who serves as the Mayor of Osaka, told reporters at his weekly press conference Monday that "anyone would understand" the role of "comfort women" when soldiers were risking their lives and you wanted to give them "a rest."
Though he acknowledged the issue was a "tragic result of war," Hashimoto, who is co-leader of the nationalist Japan Restoration Party, insisted the use of prostitutes by soldiers was not unique to Japan.
Bizarrely, Hashimoto also revealed that he told a U.S. military commander during a trip to a base on the island of Okinawa that the adult entertainment business in Japan should be "utilized more" by U.S. personnel.
"I told him there are places that operate within the boundaries of the law which can be used for releasing sexual frustration, so they [the U.S. military] should fully utilize it or the marines won't be able to control their aggressive sexual desires."
He said the officer refused to discuss the suggestion.
Reaction at Home
Hashimoto's comments also found little support among political colleagues at home.
"A series of remarks by Japanese politicians related to our interpretation of [wartime] history have been misunderstood," Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
"In that sense Mr. Hashimoto's remarks came at a bad time. [But] I wonder if there is any positive meaning to intentionally make such remarks at this particular moment? As for the remarks about adult entertainment, I could not believe that it came from a man representing a political party."
Fellow minister Tomomi Inada asked: "I wonder is this something the representative of a political party should say? I myself think the comfort women [issue] infringed the human rights of the women."
Chief Cabinet Spokesman Yoshihide Suga did not respond directly to Hashimoto's comments but instead told reporters "the stance of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue is, as it has been stated repeatedly in the past, that they suffered unspeakably painful experiences and we keenly feel the pain when we think about them."
Many of the 200,000 women whom historians estimate were forced to become sex slaves for Japan's former Imperial Army were from the Philippines, China and the Korean peninsula -- all occupied territories at the time. While many have now died, a group of Korean survivors has spent years protesting outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. They demand greater recognition of their suffering, as well as individual compensation.
Tokyo maintains its legal liability for wrongdoing was cleared by a bilateral treaty signed in 1965 with South Korea. For its part, the Seoul government expressed "deep disappointment" over Hashimoto's comments.
"There is worldwide recognition... that the issue of comfort women amounts to a wartime rape committed by Japan during its past imperial period in a serious breach of human rights," a foreign ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse Tuesday.
"Our government again urges Japan's prominent officials to show regret for atrocities committed during Japan's imperial period and to correct their anachronistic way of thinking and comments."
In 1993, the Japanese government released a statement acknowledging the "immeasurable pain and suffering" endured by thousands of women forced to have sex during World War II. It even vowed to include the comfort women issue in new junior high school textbooks for the first time.
But Japan's wartime past continues to loom over its relations with key Asian neighbors such as South Korea and China, which are currently strained by territorial disputes in the region.
TOKYO (June 15, 2012) -- Photographer Ahn Sehong walks into the Nikon building in Tokyo with his photos under his arm. They're pictures of elderly women, part of his exhibit that was scheduled to take place at the Nikon gallery. That is, until Nikon canceled it without explanation.
It's not the quality of his work that's the problem, says Sehong, but the content. Sehong's photographs are portraits of the Korean women known as comfort women, victims who were forcibly taken from Korea and used as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII.
Now 80 to 90 years old, they're the living but dwindling history of the decades-old war crimes. Some Japanese extremists believe the crimes against the comfort women never happened. Others would prefer to stop discussing Japan's ugly war history in modern times.
Sehong knocks on the door of the Nikon gallery manager's office. A middle-aged man opens the door. The gallery manager knows who Sehong is and asks him to wait. He closes the door.
"In the beginning I was angry and frustrated," says Sehong, referring to receiving the notice that his exhibit was canceled, as he waits outside the manager's door. "But this is not a matter of being angry. I believe there is a problem with the Japanese government. They're discriminating against the comfort women."
The letter Sehong received didn't state why the exhibition was canceled, and while Nikon told CNN that public complaints had been lodged before its planned opening, a representatives said that wasn't the reason the exhibition was pulled.
Sehong's pictures are emotional but don't appear to make a political statement about the Japanese. In one portrait, a woman appears to be crying. Her face is deeply lined, her back slouched with age, her hands spotted with freckles.
The picture is black and white, carrying a timelessness that betrays the endless grief the woman carries. It is just one of dozens of portraits of the elderly, poverty-stricken Korean women, quietly living out their twilight years in rural China.
"The reason I do this work is for these grandmothers," says Ahn. "The government and some Japanese people just hope these women will die and history will be erased. It's not right."
Japan has a track record of downplaying its war crimes. Most recently, Japan's government says two delegations met with the mayor of Palisades Park, New Jersey, asking the city to remove a memorial dedicated to comfort women.
The city says the Japanese officials offered cherry blossom trees if the city would take down the memorial, a small, unremarkable rock that has a single bronze etching on the side. The city says it refused the offer. Japan's government would not confirm it offered Palisades Park any gift in exchange for the removal of the memorial.
The move, widely reported through the Korean American community, reopened old wounds.
"They think it's an anti-Japanese monument, trying to attack Japan, but it's not," says Chejin Park, staff attorney for the Korean American Civic Empowerment, based in New York.
"We don't want to repeat that kind of massive, government-organized human trafficking. The only way we can stop that kind of human rights violation is remembering that human rights violation. The best way to remember it is to have a memory of it."
Korean American activists say Japan needs to accept and properly acknowledge its war crimes instead of trying to eradicate its history. The Palisades Park effort backfired on Japan, says Park. "Their request was helpful for our movement. It's helping us to do more things for the comfort women issue. Many more communities now want to have memorials in their communities."
Japan's government has formally apologized on numerous occasions for the atrocities against the women. Japan helped establish the Asian Women's Fund in 1995, which is supported by government funds and provides assistance to comfort women. The AWF has received donations from Japanese people equaling US$7 million.
Japan has resisted direct payments to individual victims, leading to complaints among activists and victims that the country appears to be avoiding officially acknowledging its history.
The lack of direct reparations continues to support a culture of discrimination against the women, say activists. That's why Ahn believes Nikon could so easily cancel his photographic memorial to the women.
Nikon's gallery manager reappears out of his office and tells Ahn his exhibit remains canceled. He won't explain why.
Ahn is disappointed. He had hoped to teach young Japanese people about their history and challenge them to reconcile it.
"These grandmothers were forced into slavery 70 years ago," says Ahn. "They lived and survived alone. Afterwards, no one remembers them."
Ahn gathers his pictures and heads to the gallery's exit. "Will they be blown away in a bleak wind and dispersed and vanished to the back stage of history?"
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