Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto apologized Saturday for saying US servicemen should frequent brothels in his prefecture as a way to reduce violent sex crimes in Okinawa.
But the mayor, a leading Japanese politician, said he did not intend to retract his comment on how sex slaves, known as "comfort women," were "necessary" during World War II to help soldiers maintain discipline.
Hashimoto had said US soldiers, who in recent years have been involved in sex crimes, including rapes and assaults, should use legal sex businesses as a way to avoid further offenses.
“My choice of words was inappropriate,” said Hashimoto, who leads the nationalist Japan Restoration Party with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. "The word 'sex businesses' was inappropriate."
Hashimoto's controversial remarks have drawn international criticism, with a Pentagon spokesman calling the suggestion “ridiculous.” In 1993, the Japanese government formally apologized for enslaving about 200,000 women from World War II occupied territories, including China, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Hashimoto's had said: "To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time... For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."
On Friday, two former South Korean "comfort women" cancelled their meeting with Hashimoto, saying they wanted no part in the mayor's "performance of apology."
"They are feeling extreme unease about Mr. Hashimoto's comments, and are saying they don't want to meet him," Japan's Jiji Press quoted supporters of the women saying.
This is not the first time Hashimoto has drawn criticism and controversy for his comments. In 2011, he suggested Japan needed a dictatorship.