Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, told Japanese media Tuesday he would not make his trip to San Francisco and New York planned for next month. His statements had set off a firestorm, particularly among U.S. military officials stationed in Japan and authorities in Seoul, as many of the women who were used as sex slaves in World War II were Koreans.
“After listening to the opinions of those in the municipal assembly and others, I’ve directed that steps be taken toward cancellation of the trip, as there’s no merit to going,” Hashimoto told reporters.
The furor began earlier this month, when Hashimoto said he suggested to U.S. Marine Corps commanders in Okinawa the service members stationed there could control their "sexual energies" using prostitutes.
"There are places where people can legally release their sexual energy in Japan," Hashimoto said at a May 14 press conference. "Unless they make use of these facilities, it will be difficult to control the sexual energies of the wild Marines."
The comments appeared to condone the "comfort women" of World War II, which Hashimoto was meeting with U.S. officials to discuss. Historians say as many as 200,000 Japanese, Korean and Chinese women were systematically forced to submit to Japanese soldiers during the war.
Hashimoto tried to diffuse the focus on his country's abuses by pointing to similar systemized brothels elsewhere during the war, but none appear to have the extent of the trafficking that occurred in Japan.
"I understand that my remark could be construed as an insult to the U.S. forces and to the American people and therefore was inappropriate," he said Monday at a press conference before the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo. "I retract this remark and express an apology."
“I never condoned the use of comfort women," he said during his lengthy remarks. "I place the greatest importance on the dignity of the human rights of women."