YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. servicemembers should consider soliciting prostitutes to control their “sexual energies,” the mayor of Osaka said Monday. It was a suggestion that apparently didn’t get very far with a Marine commander in Okinawa.
Toru Hashimoto, who also co-leads the Japan Restoration Party in the Japanese national parliament, told reporters Monday that he visited with Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s commander last month and told him that servicemembers should make more use of Japan’s legalized sex industry.
“There are places where people can legally release their sexual energy in Japan,” Hashimoto said during a video press conference Monday in Osaka. “Unless they make use of these facilities, it will be difficult to control the sexual energies of the wild Marines.”
Hashimoto said that the commander responded with a bitter smile and told him that brothels are off-limits to U.S. servicemembers.
Hashimoto, who has a reputation in Japan for controversial statements, added that servicemembers have abundant energy because their missions put them in life-threatening situations.
“They need to think about a way to release that energy,” he said.
Marine Corps officials in Okinawa were not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Hashimoto made the seemingly off-the-cuff remarks while discussing Japan’s use of “comfort women” during World War II. The Japanese military’s use of its own women for sex, along with Koreans, Chinese and others, continues to stymie international relations between Japan and much of Asia to this day.
Discussions within the current right-wing leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on whether to amend a 20-year-old government apology led to protests in South Korea and China earlier this year.
Hashimoto said Monday that the comfort women system was necessary at the time in order to maintain discipline in the Japanese military, regardless of whether the women were forced to submit. Hashimoto noted that soon after World War II ended, Japan created the Recreation and Amusement Association for U.S. troops to engage in prostitution. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who administered Japan during the post-war occupation, ended the association after four months in 1946.
Patronizing a prostitute is now subject to court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
While paying for sexual intercourse is technically illegal in Japan, most other sexual services remain legal. They are bought and sold at massage parlors, hostess bars or within the “Soapland” system — a post-war concept that endured within the law by bathing its customers.
There are multiple massage parlors – off-limits to servicemembers — that offer considerably more than a shoulder rub, located in the Honcho neighborhood across the street from Yokosuka Naval Base, about 40 miles south of Tokyo.
There are also brothels hidden within the neighborhood that are sometimes raided by police, though they pop up in new locations afterward.
Military customers at the massage parlors may become crime victims themselves, though they have little official recourse afterward. In recent years, two sailors told Stars and Stripes that they had money stolen from their debit cards while using massage parlors near Yokosuka Naval Base.
One sailor, who asked for anonymity but presented his military ID card to confirm his identity, said he had $6,000 — everything in his bank account after returning from a months-long ship deployment — stolen from his debit card after one of the women removed his pants, along with his wallet.
“I’m close to retirement, so this is something I have to work out on my own,” the sailor said at the time.
U.S. servicemembers in Japan are notified at orientation briefings when they arrive in Japan that massage parlors and similar businesses are off-limits. Military officials reiterated that message following a Stars and Stripes query.
“The Navy does not condone patronizing prostitutes, massage parlors, Soaplands and any other manner of establishment that offers sexual services, as this is entirely against our core values of respect for persons, moral integrity and human dignity,” Jon Nylander, Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman, said Tuesday.
Many women working at these businesses are victims of human trafficking, said Shihoko Fujiwara, director of Polaris Project Japan, a Tokyo-based group that works with victims and runs a hotline for those seeking help.
However, there is a popular perception of prostitution as a victimless crime, where all of the women involved choose to sell their bodies.
“We see changes, but I know what Hashimoto is saying is also the general public’s idea of [prostitution],” Fujiwara said.
Human sex traffickers are clever at adapting to attempts to thwart their business, Fujiwara said. When trafficking women from Southeast Asia, they used to rely on visas meant for entertainers. Now, they often use student and spousal visas.
Some victims that Polaris has worked with say they may be treated relatively well at first, and even told they can look for legitimate jobs. After about three months, they are beaten and forced into sexual servitude, Fujiwara said.
“For the customer of sex, the victim might be smiling at you and act like they are voluntarily providing the sex service,” Fujiwara said. “But women have to bring in the money, otherwise they’re going to be homeless.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.