A remark made by U.S. President Donald Trump, that Japan drops bowling balls on U.S. cars during inspection to shut them out of the market, later described as a joke by the White House, has left Tokyo perplexed.

During a fundraising speech in Missouri on Wednesday that was transcribed by The Washington Post on Thursday, Trump criticized Japan for conducting unfair inspections on U.S. cars to keep them out of the Japanese market.

“It’s called the bowling ball test, do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what, the roof dented a little bit, and they said, nope, this car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible,” he reportedly said.

In Tokyo on Friday, a Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry official in charge of vehicle inspections said the president’s remarks were based on “a mere misunderstanding,” saying Japan has never conducted such tests.

The official speculated that Trump may have been referring to a safety test that makes use of a spherical object resembling a human head to check damage caused to people — not vehicles — when cars hit pedestrians.

The test, which is conducted in Japan, Europe, Russia and other countries according to a global standard, evaluates whether a car properly dents when it hits an object so as to reduce the damage to pedestrians, not whether it’s strong enough to stay intact after an accident, the official said.

“I don’t think we have set stricter inspection standards than other countries. I think he has totally misunderstood,” the official said.

After Trump’s remarks, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders explained Thursday that the president was “obviously … joking about this particular test,” video footage on CNN’s website showed.

“But it illustrates the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their markets,” she said.

Trump has often voiced dissatisfaction with Japan’s safety and environmental standards for automobiles, claiming it treats American automobiles unfairly despite the fact it imposes no tariffs on imported cars.

But the transport ministry official said Japan has neither favored nor discriminated against automobiles of a certain country by conducting extra tests or imposing stricter inspection standards.

“I’ve never heard of such a test. If we did that, I think our cars would also dent,” said Honda Motor Co. spokesman Hajime Kaneko with a chuckle.

“Personally, I think our customers in Japan are more careful about the quality of their vehicles than customers in other countries. They even check carefully for uneven paint and slight misalignment,” which may have led to the impression that Japanese inspections are unfairly strict, he said.

Representatives of Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. declined to comment.

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