Two newly promoted politicians moved Monday to distance themselves from allegations of extremism after pictures emerged of them posing alongside the leader of a neo-Nazi party.
Internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi and Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Tomomi Inada can be seen in separate photographs next to Kazunari Yamada on the home page of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party.
The photos will add fuel to claims that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is increasingly surrounding himself with people on the far right.
Yamada’s blog postings indicate admiration for Adolf Hitler and praise for the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
In video footage posted on the website, Yamada is seen wearing a stylized swastika during street demonstrations.
Captions for the photographs claim they were taken “sometime in June or July 2011 when (Yamada) visited the conservative lawmakers for talks.”
Spokesmen for both senior lawmakers acknowledged Monday that the photographs are genuine and were taken in their offices over the last few years but denied there is any political affiliation.
“He was an assistant for an interviewer, and was taking notes and photos,” a staff member in Takaichi’s office said, referring to Yamada. “We had no idea who he was back then, but he requested a snapshot with her. (The minister) wouldn’t refuse such requests.”
Following media enquiries, Takaichi’s office has asked that the pictures be removed, the staff member said.
“It was careless of us,” he said, adding that Takaichi does not share Yamada’s view “at all. . . . It is a nuisance.”
One of Inada’s staff members said the LDP policy chief does not subscribe to Nazi ideology.
“It is disappointing if there are people who would misunderstand that she does,” he said.
Abe has courted criticism for his strident nationalism and views on history that some find unpalatable.
In particular, his unwillingness to condemn Imperial Japan’s behavior up to and during World War II has proved a sticking point in international relations.
His equivocations about the formalized system of sex slavery — known euphemistically as “comfort women” — has particularly rankled South Korea and China, and both regularly call on him to re-think his views.
Abe’s new 18-strong Cabinet, announced last week, includes a number of people with hawkish views.
Takaichi and Inada have both visited Yasukuni Shrine, the repository of the souls of Japan’s war dead, including a number of convicted war criminals. The shrine is regarded by many Asians as a symbol of Japan’s lack of repentance for the war.