Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Toru Hashimoto refused Wednesday to back down from his comments about the necessity of the “comfort woman” system during the war or the desirability of legal brothels in Okinawa for U.S. military personnel.

Hashimoto’s views, originally aired Monday, have created a firestorm in and out of Japan, with ruling and opposition party politicians rushing to distance themselves from him and concern within Nippon Ishin that the controversy will spark a backlash in this summer’s Upper House election, assuming the party is still intact when it takes place.

Speaking to reporters in Osaka shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an Upper House committee that Hashimoto’s position on the issue of wartime sex slaves is different from that of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Osaka mayor said the comfort women issue was settled in a 1965 treaty with South Korea.

He repeated earlier statements in which he said the women underwent much pain and suffering and that Japan needed to reflect on what it did. But he said his comment that the system was necessary needs to be understood within the context of the times.

“I did not say that the comfort women system was necessary today. If the Second World War were to occur now, (a similar system) probably wouldn’t be enacted, and nobody would approve of the kind of comfort women system Japan had back then,” he said.

Hashimoto added that because other countries have also provided prostitutes to soldiers during wartime, he can’t understand why the world is singling out Japan, while also maintaining that he isn’t saying the comfort woman system was a good thing.

“During the Korean and Vietnam wars, local women were recruited by the U.S. as prostitutes for the military, although official U.S. policy was that the women and men were acting on their own,” Hashimoto said.

On his advice to American officials in Okinawa earlier this month that U.S. military personnel should make more use of sex establishments as a way of controlling their sexual urges, Hashimoto said he did not tell the U.S. that it should use such facilities, or to build such facilities, noting it was only a suggestion.

He added that if such facilities were built and the U.S. agreed to use them, the current Status of Forces of Agreement would have to be revised so Okinawa police would have more authority to detain U.S. personnel suspected of crimes in such establishments.

Hashimoto plans to visit San Francisco and New York next month, although given the controversy his remarks have generated in the U.S., he joked that he might not be allowed to pass through immigration.

“As long as my visa request isn’t denied, I plan to go to America,” he said.

Hashimoto also explained his stance in a meeting with Junko Tsuji, the Osaka Municipal Assembly head. Tsuji warned him that as a politician he is free to say what he wants, but as mayor of Osaka his remarks were widely reported.

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