TOKYO (AP) — An emerging Japanese nationalist political party whose co-leader outraged many with remarks about Japan's wartime and modern sexual services became embroiled in more controversy Friday when a party lawmaker accused ethnic Koreans of involvement in prostitution.
The Japan Restoration Party urged the lawmaker, Shingo Nishimura, to retract his comments suggesting many ethnic Koreans are engaged in prostitution in Japan. Nishimura withdrew his remarks, but the party forced him out anyway.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a founder and co-leader of the party, angered Japan's neighbors by saying this week that the Japanese military's wartime practice of forcing Asian women into prostitution was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers. He also angered the U.S. by suggesting that American troops based in southern Japan should patronize legal adult entertainment establishments to reduce sex crime there.
The uproar over Hashimoto's comments, and Nishimura's predicament, typify the difficulties Japanese politicians can create for themselves when commenting on sensitive topics without considering how those outside their own circles might react.
Nishimura made the comments during a Restoration Party meeting Friday that was discussing the remarks made by Hashimoto, who continues to insist that other countries also commonly impressed women into military brothels during World War II and that Japan is being unfairly singled out.
Defending Hashimoto, Nishimura objected to media reports describing the women impressed into wartime military brothels as "sex slaves." Video footage of the meeting was broadcast by the TBS TV network.
"'Comfort women' is erroneously translated as 'sex slaves,' which might encourage anti-Japanese riots and conspiracies," Nishimura said. "We better fight back by telling them that the words 'comfort women' and 'sex slaves' are completely different and that there are numerous South Korean prostitutes roaming around Japan."
Nishimura said jokingly that he might return to his hometown of Osaka, go to crowded entertainment districts and tell them, "'Hey, you South Korean comfort women!'"
"So, let's fight," he said, suggesting the party stand by Hashimoto.
Even fellow lawmakers who usually support nationalist views appeared stunned.
"Please take back what you just said. Take back your comment. You should retract the word 'South Koreans,'" said party member Kenta Matsunami.
Nishimura returned to the microphone and agreed to retract that part. He later said his remarks were inappropriate, but only because he had never conducted a survey to gather data to back up his comment, and because he singled out a particular country by name.
Urged by other party members who demanded a tougher penalty than just a retraction, Nishimura submitted his resignation from the party, but party secretary-general Ichiro Matsui refused to accept it immediately and said the party wanted to expel him instead.
"I'm completely baffled by the comment. I don't think he should stay with our group anymore," Matsui said.
The Restoration Party has so far not condemned Hashimoto. Government officials have avoided making comments on his remarks on the grounds that he is the leader of an opposition party.
Hashimoto attributed the backlash against his comments to a lack of sensitivity on his part. The U.S. State Department called his remarks "outrageous and offensive."
On Friday, Hashimoto lashed back at his critics through Twitter, insisting that organized sex services were needed to prevent sex crimes by American troops during the 1945-1952 U.S. occupation following Japan's defeat in World War II.
Nishimura has raised various hooplas in the past.
In 2005, the Democratic Party of Japan, an opposition party, expelled Nishimura for allegedly letting an unqualified employee do legal work on his behalf while taking a cut of the fees.
In October 1999, Nishimura was forced to resign as parliamentary vice-minister of defense for suggesting Japan should be armed with nuclear weapons, after serving in the post for only 16 days.
Japan, whose cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were razed by atomic bombs at the end of World War II, has rejected the use of nuclear weapons
Associated Press writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.