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, coleader of an emerging nationalist 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.
Hashimoto also said he had not tried to condone a system of so-called comfort women, but meant to say military authorities at the time, not only in Japan but in many other countries, considered it necessary.
He denied any intention to avoid Japan's responsibility over its wartime actions, adding he wanted to shed light on sex offenses in the battlefield and encourage open debate on the problem today.
"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 told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo. "I retract this remark and express an apology."
Hashimoto, a lawyer and former TV personality, created an uproar with comments to journalists two weeks ago about Japan's modern and wartime sexual services, which he said were misquoted. The comments added to recent anger in neighboring countries that suffered from Japan's wartime aggression and have complained about a lack of atonement for the atrocities.
Hashimoto said then that the practice of using women from across Asia to work in frontline brothels before and during World War II was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers. He added that on a recent visit to the southern island of Okinawa, he suggested to the U.S. commander there that his troops "make better use" of the legal sex industry "to control the sexual energy of those tough guys."
On Monday, Hashimoto called the use of 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."