Ex-Japanese PM Denies Setting Up Brothel
Friday, March 23, 2007; 3:51 AM
TOKYO -- A former Japanese prime minister and elder statesman on Friday denied setting up a military brothel staffed by sex slaves during World War II, despite writing a memoir that critics say shows he did so while in the navy.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982 to 1987 and was known for his friendship with then-President Reagan, described the facility he set up as a place for civilian engineers to relax and play Japanese chess.
"I never had personal knowledge of the matter," Nakasone told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan when asked about wartime sex slaves, euphemistically known in Japan as "comfort women."
"I only knew about it from what I read in the newspaper," he said, adding that such enslavement was "deplorable" and that he supported the Japanese government's 1993 apology to victims.
Historians say as many as 200,000 women _ most from Korea and China _ worked in the frontline brothels. Victims say they were forced into the brothels by the Japanese military and were held against their will.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution that calls on Japan to make a full apology for the brothels, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred criticism earlier this month when he denied there was evidence the women were forced into service.
A Nakasone memoir published in 1978 said that when he was a sub-lieutenant in the navy, members of his 3,000-man navy unit in wartime Philippines and Borneo "began attacking women, while others took to gambling."
"At one point, I went to great pains to set up a comfort station" to keep them under control, he wrote. The essay was in an anthology of war accounts, "The Eternal Navy _ Stories to Hand Down to the Younger Generation."
In the 1990s, former Philippine sex slaves cited the memoir as further proof Nakasone was involved with enslavement, bolstering their demands that Tokyo compensate the victims. The Japanese government in 1995 set up a private fund for the women, but never offered direct government compensation.
A Nakasone spokesman in 1997 told The Associated Press that the brothel was operated by local business people and that the prostitutes worked there voluntarily and had not been forced into sexual slavery.
But on Friday, Nakasone was vague about the activities at the facility, skirting a question about whether prostitutes were active there.
"The engineers ... wanted to have a facility to relax and play `go,' so we simply established a place so they could have that," Nakasone said, explaining that the men _ civilian engineers _ needed someplace for rest and entertainment.
Nakasone's government, as all Japanese governments until the 1990s, denied any official involvement with the wartime brothels.
The former prime minister is known in Japan for his nationalist stance. In 1985, he was the first Japanese prime minister to visit a Tokyo war shrine after it began honoring executed war criminals. Visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders incense its neighbors, such as China.