TOKYO -- An outspoken Japanese politician apologized Monday for saying U.S. troops should patronize adult entertainment businesses as a way to reduce sex crimes, but defended another inflammatory remark about Japan's use of sex slaves before and during World War II.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who is also the co-head of an emerging nationalistic party, said his remarks two weeks ago rose from a "sense of crisis" about cases of sexual assaults by U.S. military personnel on Japanese civilians in Okinawa, where a large number of U.S. troops are based under a bilateral security treaty.
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"I understand that my remark could be construed as an insult to the U.S. forces and to the American people" and was inappropriate, he said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Tokyo. "I retract this remark and express an apology."
Hashimoto had created an uproar with comments to journalists two weeks ago about Japan's modern and wartime sexual services. They added to recent anger in neighboring countries that suffered from Japan's wartime aggression and have complained about the lack of atonement for atrocities committed during that time.
Hashimoto said on May 13 that on a recent visit to the southern island of Okinawa, he suggested to the U.S. commander there that the troops there "to make better use" of the legal sex industry. "If you don't make use of those places you cannot control the sexual energy of those tough guys," he said.
He also said that Japan's wartime practice of forcing women from across Asia but mostly from South Korea and China to work in front-line brothels was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers.
He didn't apologize for those comments Monday, and insisted that Japan's wartime government did not systematically force girls and women into prostitution.
"If only Japan is blamed because of the widely held view that the state authority of Japan was intentionally involved in the abduction and trafficking of women, I will have to inform you that this view is incorrect," he said.
Hashimoto also urged the government to clarify Japan's landmark apology in a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, and clearly state that Japan's government did not systematically force women into prostitution for its wartime military. Hashimoto has previously supported the view by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government denying official proof of coercion but open to further investigation.
Before taking office in December Abe had advocated revising the Kono statement, but has said recently he stands by that statement and won't revise it.
He said the murkiness of the Kono statement has contributed to longstanding disputes between Japan and South Korea. "We should bring an end to irrational debate."
Hashimoto did call the use of so-called comfort women an "inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women, in which large numbers of Korean and Japanese were included."
Still, he claimed he had been quoted out of context to say that he personally believed that the use the system was necessary. He was trying to say that armed forces of nations around the world "seem to have needed women" in past wars and also violated women's human rights during wartime.
Singling out Japan was wrong, as this issue also existed in the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union during World War II, he alleged, without elaborating.
"Based on the premise that Japan must remorsefully face its past offenses and must never justify the offenses, I intended to argue that other nations in the world must not attempt to conclude the matter by blaming only Japan and by associating Japan alone with the simple phrase of `sex slaves' or `sex slavery,"' Hashimoto said in the statement.
Hashimoto said any forms of sexual exploitation of women at conflict, whether it is commercial or military run, is inexcusable.,
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels. While some other World War II armies had military brothels, Japan is the only country accused of such widespread, organized sexual slavery.
Hashimoto, 43, has become well-known in recent years for his outspokenness. Last year, he formed a conservative party, the Japan Restoration Party, with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a strident nationalist. The party is now an opposition party in the parliament.