OSAKA - Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who co-heads the opposition Japan Restoration Party, said Monday he believes the system to recruit women into sexual servitude was "necessary to maintain discipline" in the Japanese military during World War II.
Hashimoto told reporters at Osaka City Hall that the women who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during the war, euphemistically referred to as "comfort women" in Japan, were "needed to provide rest to a group of brave soldiers who were exalted in the line of fire."
The mayor asked, "Why is the Japanese 'comfort women' system only blamed? Other countries had similar schemes at the time."
He denied the Japanese military had systematically abducted women, mostly from other Asian countries, to coerce them into sex slavery by assaulting and threatening them.
The mayor said Japan has been labeled "a nation of rapists" in Europe and the United States due to "campaigns by South Korea and other nations."
He said the system of "comfort women" was born "as a tragic consequence of war" and it is necessary to understand the feelings of such women and pay due consideration to them.
Hashimoto also said when he visited Okinawa to inspect the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in late April, he asked a senior U.S. military officer based in the prefecture to let Marines use local sex-related services.
"Otherwise, they cannot control the sexual energy of wild Marines," Hashimoto said. The U.S. military officer told the mayor that the Marines are prohibited from using such services, he added.
A South Korean government official slammed Hashimoto's remarks on "comfort women," saying they showed a "serious lack of recognition of history and the need to respect women's human rights," according to Yonhap News Agency.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference in Tokyo that Hashimoto had expressed his personal view and the Japanese government will not review its official position on the issue of wartime sex slavery.
In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged in a statement the Japanese military's responsibility for forced recruitment of women into sexual servitude and apologized to the victims.
Regarding Hashimoto's remarks, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, secretary general of the Japan Restoration Party, told Kyodo News that people "cannot have an ordinary sense during war."
Hashimoto's comments drew fire from other opposition parties.
Japanese Communist Party Secretary General Tadayoshi Ichida said the remarks were "degrading to human beings and unforgivable." Hashimoto is "not qualified to serve as the head of a party and a mayor, or to speak about national politics," Ichida said.
Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda said he believes the "comfort women" system was not necessary for the Japanese military during the war.