Monday, June 3, 2013

The Economist on Toru Hashimoto: "The scent of blood was in the air at the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents’ Club last week..."

It was the blood of Toru Hashimoto.

It's been a week since Boy-wonder mayor of Osaka City gave a press conference at Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo to lecture them on exploitation of women during wars in general and World War II in particular, only to fall flat on his face (without him realizing it) and did more damage than good (without him realizing that, either).

While most of the correspondents who attended didn't even bother to write about it and the US State Department said "No comment" to a mere local official (that's what Hashimoto is, Mayor of Osaka City), the UK's Financial Times wrote about it the next day.

Now, The Economist weighs in, one week later, and it is brutal. You could sense a sheer disdain in the second paragraph, which effectively summarizes what Hashimoto uttered at the Foreign Correspondents' Club spending three hours.

From The Economist (6/3/2013; emphasis is mine):

Japan's right-wing politicians: Making a hash of history

Jun 3rd 2013, 4:30 by D.M. | TOKYO

THE scent of blood was in the air at the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents’ Club last week. A rising political star tipped as a candidate for prime minister was facing a hostile crowd of reporters after having uttered a series of controversial bon mots [clever remarks; "good words" in French]. Most strikingly, Toru Hashimoto (pictured above), the mayor of Osaka and a leader of the right-wing Japan Restoration Party (JRP), said Japan’s organised rape of wartime sex slaves was a necessary evil. Turning to the present day, he also said that “hot-blooded” American soldiers should themselves be using prostitutes more often in Okinawa, which is today home to 75% of the American bases in Japan. In the great tradition of Japanese politics, Mr Hashimoto was expected to bow before his media inquisitors, apologise and move on. He did no such thing.

In that marathon presser, Mr Hashimoto repeated his claim that there is no evidence of the wartime Japanese state’s involvement in herding what some scholars estimate to have been 200,000 Asian women into military brothels. He was aware of the pain suffered by the so-called comfort women, he assured, but said other countries should look squarely at their past too. “Sexual violation in wartime was not unique to the Japanese army,” he said, citing Britain, America, France and Russia for indulging in what he called, rather jarringly, “sex on the battlefield”. His remarks on Okinawa were merely intended to draw attention to the misdeeds of a “heartless minority” of American soldiers, he insisted. And to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with America, naturally.

Mr Hashimoto survived a vote of no-confidence in the Osaka assembly, but the fully verdict on the whole performance has yet to emerge—many commentators suspect that Mr Hashimoto has torpedoed his political career. This would be especially extraordinary given his party’s having won a shocking 12m votes in the elections of December 2012, a share that put them ahead of the party of the previous government, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as the country’s second-largest. The lessons, whatever they may be, will be of great import to the government of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, ahead of general elections on July 21st. Mr Abe has previously expressed views on the comfort women that were similar to Mr Hashimoto’s, and even more abrasive. A majority of his government agrees with him and press the point even further than Mr Hashimoto did. Mr Hashimoto was careful to say Japanese politicians should accept that the nation waged colonial wars of aggression in Asia, for instance, while 13 of the lawmakers in Mr Abe’s cabinet reject Japan’s “apology diplomacy” for the abuse of the comfort women and other war crimes.

Since leading the conservative Liberal Democrats (LDP) back to power in December, Mr Abe has been advised to avoid the terrain that ensnared Mr Hashimoto, but it never seemed likely that he could keep himself entirely free of it. In April, he queried the definition of “aggression” in relation to Japan’s colonial wars in Asia—in effect undermining the basis of Tokyo’s relations with its former victims. His semantic quibble had the effect of corroding Japan’s gold-standard apology for its imperial warmongering and atrocities, the 1995 Murayama statement. Indeed, Mr Abe has hinted that he may retract it.

On May 12th, the LDP’s policy chief, Sanae Takaichi, revealed to millions of television viewers that Mr Abe rejects the verdict of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, which blamed Japan for the war and sentenced its leaders to hang. Then a record number of LDP lawmakers visited the Yasukuni shrine last month, where those hanged leaders were enshrined clandestinely. A pilgrimage to the shrine is taken to imply a tacit endorsement of the wartime leaders and their aims. To reject the verdict of the war trials themselves would mean setting back to zero Japan’s modern relations with China, Korea and even America. The consequences would be profound.

For this reason, Mr Abe’s government has struggled to keep its actual positions opaque. As the prime minister twists and turns, pulled between his political id and the dreadful reality of making them plain, his spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, has spent the month putting out fires. For example: No, says Mr Suga, the prime minister does not deny war crimes; but, Yes, Japan stands by its war apologies. No, Mr Abe does not want to retract the 1993 Kono statement, in which Japan acknowledged its role in rounding up sex slaves.

Mr Hashimoto, who was wooed by Mr Abe earlier this year as a possible political partner, lamented at his press conference that Japan is once again getting bogged down in discussion about the past. “My generation should look ahead and create a better future for our people,” he said. He said this as if he were unaware that he had just spent almost three hours straight talking about the middle of the 20th century.


The bit about Ms. Sanae Takaichi declaring her boss, PM Shinzo Abe, rejects the verdict of the TOkyo War Crimes Tribunal in front of millions of TV viewers on May 12 was surprising, as I wasn't aware. So I looked for the reporting of the event, and found it at Sankei Shinbun (5/12/2013), a newspaper that's been very happy since the December win of LDP:


Sanae Takaichi, chairman of the LDP policy bureau, said in an NHK program on May 12 that understanding of history by the Abe administration was different from that by past administrations. When asked if the Abe administration accepts the verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trials) just as the past administration did, Takaichi answered, "There are things that are different in the Abe administration when it comes to a concept of a nation or a historical perspective."

I suppose Ms. Takaichi or Mr. Abe could cry foul, like Boy-wonder did, and blame foreign media for telling lies.


Anonymous said...

The foreign media is just a 'baseless rumor machine'. Only we, the Japanese Government, speak the thruth.

Good luck Japan, you are going to need!

Anonymous said...

Like it or not, The Economist is a super heavy-weight in the international press, and even more a cautious, well informed and rather well balanced press organ.
I guess if they do react, it's because Abe and Hashimoto are not excentric figures going astray.
(The US diplomacy of ignoring these stinking sprouts was clever, btw. )
Part of Japan is just OK for a revival of their old demons. Whatever the cost, that could be very dear in the end, once again, but very profitable in short-term.
Anyway, that's how I understand what seems to err between mere stupidity and stupid machiavelism.
Another part of Japan (that's where my friends are) ranges between mere and active opposition and a kind of unfocused critical thinking, that's difficult to understand. As I like facts-checking, the testimony of the old medic on "confort women" is a mile-stone to me, as I was still unsure where the truth was.
Do Japanese people have the government they deserve ?
Phiphi, left stranded on the beach.

Anonymous said...

Japan is soooooooooooo UNCOOL, and so are you Mr. Abe and Hashimoto.

Anonymous said...

Strange thing, even my more reasonable and international Japanese friends don't seem to see what the big deal is with Hashimoto's comments. "There's no evidence." and "The women received payment." seem to close the subject. They just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

99% of japanese dont get it, i blame the indoctrination by the schools and especially the media... also that most have no backbone so wont stand out from the crowd with their views.... pretty sad really

netudiant said...

Suggestion was made elsewhere that Hashimoto's gaffe has weakened him, making it more likely that he will become more supportive of Abe and his policies, including the nuclear restart. It also has conveniently pushed the nuclear issue off the front pages. Is it all just Kabuki?

Anonymous said...

This is hurting Japan exportations to Asia.
So really not clever at a time when Japan needs to do all that it is ever possible to do to avoid a soon to come flash burst of its economy.
A little profit from exportations to help comfort those who are suffering from Fukushima contaminations would not have hurt anyone.
Not sure Japan can get the olympics with this mentality either. This ugly version of Japan does not have my vote.

Anonymous said...

I dont know what to think...I actually understand Hashimotos words. People in Okinawa are tired of american soldiers not behaving properly and harrassing people -girls- more often than not...there has been lot of news about it on TV. and.. come on, anyone who has been to places here in Japan where soldiers go to chillout has seen they can be "noisy" - to say the least- from a Japanese point of view.
So his will was good but he failed - big time!-in the way he put it..
I am not a fan of Hashimoto, he is kind of a dark guy (the fact that he chose the topic of war times and comfort girls to put his message through says it all) but I had better reasons , and there will be for sure, to critizise him...
..I am not Japanese by the way...

Hikarius said...

For those who can read Japanese, you can read her recent interview here:

"I was scolded by my daughter (for not understanding Gothic Lolita)." (...)

"I would like to learn more about the essence of Gothic Lolita." (...)


Hikarius said...

Oops. Sorry for the wrong reply.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 3:49 and 6:21, same experience, not with my japanese friends (except one) - it is very difficult to talk about war/comfort-women/Korea/Fuku if they don't put the topic on the table, and if they do, they might just be spying on you; but with my wife. She left Japan, lives happy in Europe since 30 years, never felt she was more (or worse) than just from another country (unlike in the US) and has a strong backbone - personnal, and from her familly that's long been in diplomacy, some of them betting on the loosing side, openness when it wasn't the thing to do.
She never asserted anything more than the difference between the japanese and the korean "tales". I'm just waiting; may-be some day she'll tell me something different.
She did assert her father, that I've known, had awfull memories of his time serving in Mandchouria.
And I can testify he had a backbone and used it for good.
But alas he was pretty much in a minority.

Vyse Legendaire said...

I can't help but feel that this whole episode is nothing but one big farce, with no real implications but the stupidity of this Hashimoto goon.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Undeterred, Hashimoto is on to the next thing to inflict more pain to Osaka residents whom I suspect he detest. He and his sidekick the governor of Osaka are offering Osaka for the US military to train on Osprey. Flying super low, middle of the night, over the crowded metropolis.

Anonymous said...

As an Osakajin I would be very dissapointed to say the least, but if I were Japanese I cannot think of a better place to put an american base now.
No matter how local official Hashimoto is, I am sure..I hope, American soldiers will get more clear instructions about how to behave in daily life from their supperiors if they dont want Japanese authorities messing around..unless Hashimoto steps back to avoid exposure again..)

Nothing wrong with american soldiers though. I lived by coincidence a few kilometers away from a base and met very nice doctors and other staff there, very rarely causing trouble.
But some guys think that, for example, dating two times with a japanese girl means she is ready to go...
That is not the case in 99% of the times I would say, so either they are tought how things work here,or relax at home before the third date, or just follow Hashimotos need to make a fuss!

The thing with the Osprey can be more tricky though...I had fighters flying several times a day from 7 am maybe until 8pm or so..mostly during spring summer and can get very annoying if you live forever there..I guess it depends how they manage to negotiate with American authorities about the placement and other details ...
Anyway, Hashimoto definitely messed up a clear winning complaint to strenght his image in Japan and worldwide.. he might need to go back to the drawing board a bit longer..

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