(This version of the story clarifies 15th paragraph to indicate that Marano and many in Japan’s right wing have interpreted a 1944 U.S. Army report as saying the women were willing prostitutes, not that the Army stated they were willing prostitutes)
By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters)- Somewhere in the Dallas area, a retired man sitting in a home office is making social media videos backing Japanese right-wing views that have made him a celebrity among hawks in the Asian country.
Hardly known in the United States, Tony Marano, 66, is called the “Texas Daddy” in Japan, where he has spawned a small industry that includes books, speaking tours, T-shirts emblazoned with his cartoon likeness and scores of videos, some of which have been viewed more than 300,000 times.
To his critics, however, he is a mouthpiece for Japanese nationalists.
“I am just expressing my opinion,” said Marano in an accent that gives away his Brooklyn upbringing. “Why are they fearing this little guy? I don’t mean any harm to them.”
He is one of a small group of Westerners embraced by Japan’s right wing, but stands out with his jocular demeanor and sharp tongue.
Marano, who often wears T-shirts in videos and suits for speeches, unexpectedly grabbed attention in Japan about seven years ago when he began criticizing Sea Shepherd, a U.S.-based marine conservation group, in its aggressive campaigns to halt Japanese whaling.
Videos he posted from Texas made their way to Japan, where they developed a following.
He became more intrigued about Japan, conducting more research and posting more videos. His notoriety snowballed as more people began paying attention.
A publishing deal followed and within a few years, his Japanese supporters set up an office called the Texas Daddy Japan Secretariat. He has published seven books in Japanese and is set for more exposure with another three books this year, the office said.
Marano is a former telephone company employee who has spent about half of his life in Texas and put together a YouTube video channel called “PropagandaBuster.” He speaks little Japanese.
Marano says his mission is to bolster a military alliance among the United States, South Korea and ally Japan, and to speak truth to power.
He has released more than 80 videos in the past year that run with Japanese subtitles provided by the Secretariat, which has seven translators and three editors to prepare the works for the Japanese audience.
One hot topic has been the women forced to work in Imperial Japanese military wartime brothels and euphemistically known as “comfort women.”
Scholars continue to debate the number of women across Asia who were sexually exploited. South Korean activists say there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims, but only a few have come forward.
Marano and many in Japan’s right wing have interpreted a 1944 U.S. Army report as stating the women were willing prostitutes, a position critics said is wrong.
“To say that the Japanese Imperial Army was on a sexual rampage, that is inaccurate,” Marano said. “This whole comfort women story stinks.”
About two years ago, Marano triggered a firestorm of criticism on South Korean social media when he waved Japanese flags and sat next to a statue dedicated to comfort women in Glendale, California. He said he received death threats.
Japan and South Korea in December reached an agreement to resolve the issue that has been a thorn in their relations for decades, in which Japan made an apology and promised about 1 billion yen ($8.5 million) for a fund to help former comfort women.
The Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization, an advocate for the women, accuses Marano of historical denialism on comfort women and being unaware of what is being published under his name in Japanese.
“The positions he takes are based on the complete distortion of the historical documents,” said Emi Koyama, the co-founder of the California-based group.
Editing by Matthew Lewis