The mayor of Osaka, a strong contender to become the next prime minister of Japan, on Tuesday claimed there is no proof showing that Korean women were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II.
"There is no evidence that comfort women were assaulted and threatened by the [Japanese] military and dragged off," Mayor Toru Hashimoto said.
"Comfort women" is the euphemism used by Japan to refer to the women from Asia and elsewhere who were forced to work in battlefield brothels by the Imperial Army.
Hashimoto was responding to questions by Japanese reporters about President Lee Myung-bak's demand that the Japanese emperor apologize for his country's wartime atrocities if he wishes to visit Korea. "Come to think of it, the use of 'comfort women' may be problematic from an ethical standpoint, but Korea must present proof that they were taken away by force," Hashimoto said.
His comments seem at odds with the Japanese government's position as expressed in August 1993 by then cabinet secretary Yohei Kono that "Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women."
The rightwing Osaka Restoration Association led by Hashimoto ranked second only after the Liberal Democratic Party in support ratings in a recent poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun. It is expected to become a major force after the upcoming general election.
Hashimoto has frequently expressed rightwing views, calling for Japan to develop nuclear weapons and for schoolchildren to sing the national anthem in class. The anthem, called "Kimigayo," is the same hymn that was used to rally the Japanese behind the imperialist military during World War II.