Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone on Friday denied he set up a military brothel during World War II when he was a naval officer, claiming the facility he built was only for “rest and recreation” for the engineering corps he led.

In memoirs published in an anthology in 1978, Nakasone wrote that he set up an “ian-jo,” or “comfort station,” for the engineering corps in the Imperial Japanese Navy. The wartime military called the brothels comfort stations and the women forced into sexual servitude for the troops “ian-fu,” or “comfort women.”

Nakasone called the facility he set up an ian-jo, but claimed it was for recreation, not for sex. The word “ian” can be translated as “comfort” and “consolation,” but also “recreation.”

“Engineers said they wanted a facility for rest and recreation. So built a facility for rest and recreation,” Nakasone, 88, told a new conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “That’s what I have in my memory.”

Reporters asked Nakasone to give details about the facility — what kind of recreation was enjoyed there and whether it included prostitutes.

He gave little information but said the men played the Japanese board game “shogi” and simply “got together.” He repeated many times that the facility was for “rest and recreation.”

However, Nakasone said Japan should make a straightforward apology to the comfort women, although he claims he has no firsthand knowledge about the facts.

“I have knowledge only from reading newspapers and such, but that’s a problem that Japan should apologize for,” Nakasone said.

The comfort women issue is “very regrettable,” and “we have expressed our sympathy for those who underwent such experiences and we feel sorry,” he said.

Nakasone’s denial is about a passage he wrote in a contribution to “Owarinaki Kaigun” (“The Navy Without End”), a collection of writings by navy war veterans.

“Some (soldiers) began assaulting (indigenous) women and others started to indulge in gambling. I took great pains to set up a comfort station for them,” he wrote.

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