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Letters from Tokyo
Japan and South Korea Relations: Comfort Women and Toru Hashimoto the Mayor of Osaka
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Comfort Woman in Burma in 1945 — An ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer in Rangoon, Burma on August 8, 1945. As many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, were coerced or forced to serve as sex slaves for the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army during the WW II.

The Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, is sadly once more showing right-wing tendencies by speaking about issues which are unrelated to his job. Osaka and the Kansai region needs to focus on economic related issues and showing the amazing richness of this part of Japan. Therefore, it is hoped that Hashimoto will not follow the same rhetoric path of Shintaro Ishihara, who is the current Governor of Tokyo.

It should also be stated that in Osaka you have a vibrant Korean community who should also be taken into consideration by Hashimoto. Another important fact is that if his views about the “comfort women” (many ethnic groups suffered because of being forced to become sex slaves – this notably applies to Korean and Chinese women – and also Japanese women were forced into this system) reality is so far from the position of the Japanese government; then does the same apply to what happened in China and Korea with regards to other brutal realities?

President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea is wrong to rake up anti-Japanese nationalism by manipulating the disputed area called Takeshima islets in Japan and which are called Dokdo by South Korea. Likewise, Hashimoto is wrong to rake up anti-Korean sentiments over such a tragic event in history. It is shameful that the leaders of the two most powerful cities in Japan will manipulate nationalism without thinking about their negative impact internationally.

In Japan in recent times the power of K-pop (Korean pop music) goes from strength to strength. After the terrible March 11, 2011, tsunami which killed over 19,000 people many K-pop groups donated vast sums to help the people of Japan. This is the spirit which is needed by the younger generation in both nations. After all, in history many Korean scholars blessed Japanese history and the same applies to spreading Buddhism and other important cultural legacies along with China.

Alternatively, many young South Koreans adore Japanese fashion, kawaii culture and the rich cultural traditions of Japan. These two unique cultures have so much to give the world. Therefore, it is extremely wrong for nationalists in either nation to ramp up their own personal egos, at the expense of the positives of both nations. Instead, important political leaders should focus on breaking the chains and forging closer ties.

Hashimoto commented that “There is no evidence that people called comfort women were taken away by violence or threat by the (Japanese) military…If there is such evidence, South Korea should provide it.”

If Hashimoto read statements about the research done by the Japanese government in the early 1990s, then he would know that Japan provided the evidence. It is time for Hashimoto to stop replicating Shintaro Ishihara in Tokyo who often makes nationalist remarks without thinking about the impact of his comments. Japan and South Korea need to move on and focus on developing greater cultural interactions. If not, another generation will be manipulated by individuals who are abusing their powerful political positions for their own personal gain.

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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, he earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies at Nottingham Trent University. His website is at






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