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Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto denied on Monday that he views the system of military brothels during World War II as necessary for the Japanese military, in attempting to explain his opinions to the foreign media in Japan amid an outcry over his earlier remarks at home and abroad.
"It was wrongly reported that I myself thought it necessary for armed forces to use women and that I accepted this when I made the remark," Hashimoto said at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo in a bid to stem the outrage caused by his comments on the issue of Japan's system of wartime military brothels.
Hashimoto's comments earlier in the month regarding women euphemistically known in Japan as "comfort women" were widely reported by the Japanese and foreign media and have hurt the reputation of the Japan Restoration Party, which he co-heads, ahead of the upper house election.
"I have never condoned the use of comfort women," the outspoken mayor said in a two-and-a-half-hour news conference, calling the use of comfort women by Japanese soldiers before and during World War II an "inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women."
Hashimoto said he had made his remarks against a historical background that the armed forces of nations in the world appeared to "have needed women" during war and lamented they were taken out of context.
The mayor told the news conference attended by about 300 foreign and domestic reporters that it is "unfair to blame only Japan as if the violation of human rights of women by soldiers was a problem unique to Japanese soldiers."
He urged various nations to "look squarely" at their past similar actions as wartime sexual violations also existed in troops of nations including the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
"I have no intention of justifying what Japan did," Hashimoto repeatedly said, stressing that Japan must apologize and reflect on its own offenses against women during the war.
Following a government study on the issue of comfort women, a statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in August 1993 acknowledged the Japanese military's responsibility of forcibly recruiting women for sexual servitude and apologized to the victims.
In 2007, a Cabinet decision adopted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first Cabinet said there was no evidence to back claims that the Japanese military was directly involved in the forced recruitment of women of other Asian nations into sexual servitude.
But the point on whether or not the government was responsible for trafficking women remains a contentious issue between Japan and South Korea, where calls by former comfort women for Japan to give state compensation remain strong.
"I have no intention of denying the Kono statement" but want the statement to be "clear" on the "ambiguous" point, Hashimoto said, noting that while South Korea looks at the Kono statement as its basis for Japan's involvement in trafficking, many historians in Japan see that it was not the state but private recruiters.
Japan says all issues related to individual compensation were settled by a 1965 treaty as part of normalizing ties with South Korea, but South Korea claims otherwise.
Hashimoto suggested that South Korea could use the International Court of Justice to resolve the comfort women issue in connection with the right to claim compensation, but that has drawn criticism from South Korea.
He also apologized to the U.S. military and people for his earlier remarks urging U.S. forces to use Japan's legal adult entertainment industry to prevent the recurrence of sex offenses reported in Okinawa and said he retracts such comments.
Hashimoto said he had a "strong sense of crisis" to fix the problem which was why he had suggested to the U.S. military that use of Japan's adult entertainment industry "be considered as one" of the possible measures to prevent such crimes.
But he admitted that his remark "could be construed as an insult to the U.S. Forces and to the American people and therefore was inappropriate."
When asked whether he intends to step down from his post as co-head of the Japan Restoration Party, he indicated he will seek a public mandate in the upcoming upper house election and that the outcome will determine whether he stays on in his post.