Volume 13 Issue 19 Number 2 Please see the Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan signed by Japan studies scholars who call on Prime Minister Abe to "act boldly" and support a more honest account of 20th century history. Who were the "comfort women"? Experts using the best documentation estimate the number of "comfort women" at tens or hundreds of thousands.
However, his comment that the system of "comfort women" during the second world war was necessary has caused a storm of protest on a different scale. It outraged neighbouring Asian countries and feminist activists who had supported these women and sought to gain recognition of what they had suffered.
Cabinet ministers and other Japanese politicians in the ruling conservative party and in opposition have also expressed their strong disapproval. In general, the Japanese political establishment has been reluctant to admit official government involvement in the system of "comfort women".
There have been a few statements from politicians such as prime ministers Kiichi Miyazawa and Tomiichi Murayama in andand the chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono inbut the current PM, Shinzo Abe, has expressed his intention to revise some of the above apologies.
Hashimoto's remark could therefore be read as another example of the trend towards growing political conservatism and nationalism in Japan.
However, the nature of his comment is slightly different ,and his lack of awareness as to how gender, class and ethnicity intersect to create particular forms of sexual exploitation has stunned many.
In his comment on the system of "comfort women", he stated that while such a system may not be acceptable to contemporary society, sexual industries euphemistically called "entertainment and amusement industries" in Japan are still indispensable, particularly around military bases.
Furthermore, he revealed that when he visited the US military base in Futenma in Okinawa earlier this month, he even advised the US commanders to make use of these industries to release and control the "sexual energy" of the members of the Marine Corps.
As many politicians and feminist activists said in response, this is not a comment that the leader of a political party or any politician holding a position of responsibility should make. Hashimoto argues that, historically, many countries and their militaries have sexually exploited women, but that it is only the Japanese government that is held accountable for wartime rape.
What his comment misses is that many feminists and scholars of war and peace studies have highlighted how war, military, militarism and militarised masculinity have perpetuated intersectional gender and sexual violence and exploitation.
It is within this broader context of gender and sexual violence that the issue of "comfort women" has often been discussed, but Hashimoto's comment does not acknowledge this. It is true that gender-based violence caused by the military is prevalent both during conflict and peacetime, and this needs to be addressed.
Indeed the US, the UK and other countries have started to tackle these problems in their militaries. Hashimoto also claims that in Japan though prostitution is illegal some sexual activities within the "entertainment and amusement industries" are legally accepted.
He maintains that if we reject these sexual industries this means that we are discriminating against those women who "voluntarily" choose to work in these sectors. So, now he is turning the blame around to those of us who argue against the exploitation of women in sexual industries.
But to what extent is "voluntary" ever actually "voluntary"? What Hashimoto's comment ignores is the structured gendered inequality that women still experience. With many women highly educated and with, though fading, still relatively strong economic power, gender inequality in Japan is often unheeded.
However, with the gender wage gap, unequal gender employment practices, a lower representation of female MPs, and the prevalence of domestic violence and so on, how much do women have the freedom to choose their way of living and earning?
Also, not to be overlooked is the fact that many women from other Asian countries work in these industries.
This situation has been reproducing not only gender inequality and violence, but also global economic inequality and racial and ethnic discrimination. Hashimoto's accusation of our discriminating against these women will be valid only when we eliminate all forms of gender inequality and violence.
His succession of comments, some made on Twitter, is undeniably problematic, as it demonstrates his stance that for the operation of war, it is acceptable and necessary to violate the sexuality and human rights of the most socially vulnerable women.
Clearly, such an opinion should be challenged. However, at the same time, feminists and those who are socially and politically conscious have to continue on the long journey to educate a wider public, so that no one would hold such an unjustifiable view in the future.Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War The phrase “comfort women” is a controversial term that refers to an estimated , girls and women who were recruited as prostitutes by the Imperial Japanese Army during the s and s.
Aug 28, · Despite the widespread prevalence of what was essentially institutionalised rape the issue of comfort women was ignored by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East that was established after the war to prosecute Japanese war criminals. When discussing the ethnic origin of the women, Kim Il Myon asserts that "80 to 90%" of all comfort women were Korean, for a total of , to , Korean comfort women.
However, no statistics exist to back up any of these estimates. These estimates range from 1 comfort women per military personnel with a replacement rate of , giving a figure of 45, comfort women, to 1 comfort woman per 30 military personnel and a replacement rate of to give , comfort women.
bravery of the women themselves in speaking out about their treatment at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II the story of the so-called ‘comfort women’ is now well known. From the early s, their fight for justice. This is an important book that signals fundamental shifts in understandings of the Japanese military’s use of “comfort women” in Asia during the Second World War.4/4(21).